SCOTT SIMON, host:
Here's a tune you'd recognize in any language.
(Soundbite of theme tune to "Sesame Street" in Dutch)
SIMON: The language is Dutch, by the way. "Sesame Street" has been around for almost 40 years. It airs in 120 countries around the globe. To accentuate the worldwide reach of "Sesame Street," those shrewd marketers at Sesame Workshop and Putumayo Kids have released a new CD and video. It's called "Sesame Street Playground," and it features songs and Muppets from Sesame Streets in every corner of the world. We're joined now by Dan Storper, the founder of Putomayo World Music. He's in our New York bureau. Mr. Storper, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. DAN STORPER (Founder, Putomayo World Music): Great to be with you.
SIMON: And he is accompanied by the chairman of the board of "Sesame Street," old bug eyes himself, the great feathered one, the one, the only Big Bird. Mr. Bird, thank you for joining us.
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Oh, good morning.
SIMON: And we're joined on the phone all the way from Takalani Sesame in South Africa by Zikwe. Mr. Zikwe, thank you very much for being with us.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Hey, hey, all I can say is hollolops(ph) to everybody around the world.
SIMON: Mr. Storper, I'm going to throw you one question, because honestly you may not get another one with two distinguished performers to speak with. What makes the "Sesame Street Playground" project so important to you?
Mr. STORPER: Well, you know, Putomayo for years has been trying to introduce people to the cultures of the world. And when we started our children's division back in '99, the idea was that kids have an opportunity to learn about other places through melodic upbeat music that can transport them. And they can learn some of the positive sides of other cultures that they would not normally get to meet, know, experience. And hopefully it's going to give them a better view of the world.
SIMON: Mr. Zikwe.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Yeah.
SIMON: Could you describe yourself for our listeners?
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Oh, well, I'm one person who's ageless, you know. It's like sometimes I'm 10 years old, or two years old, or three years old. Sometimes, I'm a bit older. And yeah, what more?
SIMON: Well, about you, about the project?
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) I heard you say you were furry.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Yeah, well, well, I've got fur, yeah. And, well, with me it's like I drive my taxi, I travel around the world. I can speak so many languages.
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Wow.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) And I basically came to Takalani Sesame because my car was broken down. So I've been there ever since, for 10 years now. Yeah, that's the story of my life so far.
SIMON: Mr. Bird, we enlisted some expert help to get questions. They're four-year-old twin sisters, Annie and Vida Hedgepath(ph).
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Really? Wow.
SIMON: They're big fans, both of them, of your work.
Ms. ANNIE HEDGEPATH: I'd like to say hi, Big Bird.
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Hello.
SIMON: Now, a question from Annie.
Ms. ANNIE HEDGEPATH: Sometimes I'm, like, asking about where do you live?
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Well, I live in a nest right next to Gordon and Susan's kitchen.
SIMON: I'm guessing a nest in Midtown Manhattan.
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) It's a big nest. I built it myself.
SIMON: That's got to list for about what? One and a quarter million or something?
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) No, actually it cost me $2.98. That's not much.
SIMON: Zikwe, where do you live, sir?
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) I live in my taxi. It's a beautiful taxi, yah.
SIMON: Driving all the time, you must be familiar with this. There's a song that's on Takalani Sesame about pollution. Maybe if you could tell us a bit about that song.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) We live in a country where everything is happening, and what's very, very important is that we learn to take care of the fish, you know, in the rivers where we don't throw plastics. You know, it's like on the street as well you mustn't throw things around. And when we pick those things up we can reuse them and recycle them. And it's...
(Soundbite of song "Pollution")
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) (Singing) When you're sleeping by the river, dirty water will spoil the river. So when you're fishing, here's my solution, we don't want any more pollution.
Unidentified Chorus: (Singing) Dirty paper, dirty paper...
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) That's the song. It basically encourages everybody to take care of the environment.
SIMON: Vida Hedgepath has another question for you, Mr. Bird.
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Yes.
Ms. VIDA HEDGEPATH: What is Big Bird's favorite letter?
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) OK, Vida. It's the letter B. Maybe it's because it starts the word big and also bird.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) My favorite color is yellow.
SIMON: A little narcissistic, isn't it, Mr. Bird?
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Well, I'm not usually, but I have to have a little feeling about myself. It's OK.
SIMON: Mr. Zikwe, as I understand it, this is going to be your introduction to children all over the world?
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Yeah, you know, and with me, like, I love languages, you know, so it would be great to actually listen to these songs, you know, in other languages, yah.
SIMON: Can you teach us how to say something in one of the South African languages?
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Oh, you can say - when you say hello, you say Sawubona.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Yah, or you can say Dumela.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Yeah. But, in my Zikwean(ph) language, you simply say hollolops.
SIMON: Oh, my gosh. Hollolops.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Hello.
SIMON: Gentlemen, Mr. Bird...
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Yes?
SIMON: Zikwe, and Dan Storper, thank so much for speaking with us.
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) I want to thank the two little girls.
SIMON: I think they have something to say to you.
Ms. ANNIE and VIDA HEDGEPATH: Bye, Big Bird, nice to meet you.
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Oh, nice to meet you, too.
SIMON: I'm sure that applies to everybody. Their latest work, "Sesame Street Playground," songs and videos from around the world.
(Soundbite of music)
SIMON: Oh, and Zikwe?
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Yeah. Hollolops.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Zikwe) Don't worry, don't worry. I'll teach you sometime.
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Big Bird) Lollipops.
SIMON: You heard Big Bird tell us his favorite letter is B for bird. Of course that could also be for bourbon. We asked some folks around these hallways for their favorite letter.
(Soundbite of music)
MELISSA BLOCK: This is Melissa Block. I'm one of the hosts of All Things Considered. And I would have to say that my favorite letter would be the letter Q. Q is much more versatile than you would think. You'd be astonished at how many words you can make with the letter Q, and you don't need the U.
Ms. KEE MALESKY (Librarian, NPR): My name is Kee Malesky, and I'm an NPR librarian. Librarians love the alphabet. We all have 26 favorite letters. I would have to say that my favorites would be A and Z because it's the beginning and the end.
NEDA ULABY: I am Neda Ulaby, an arts reporter for National Public Radio. And my favorite letter is the letter S. What I love about S is that it's shaped the way S should sound, sss. That's the most satisfying thing to look at all of those little s-s-s-s-s.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: I'm Claudio Sanchez. I cover education for National Public Radio. And my favorite letter is Z, or Zeta. Z is the 26th letter, it's the last one. And I always like being the last because I learned so much from the people who went before me.
SIMON: What's your favorite? Come to our blog, npr.org/soapbox, to tell us about your favorite letter and to hear more about our interview with Big Bird and Zikwe.
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