AFRICAN pop is hot. Witness Paul Simon's Africa-inspired "Graceland" album, Ladysmith Black Mambazo's perfect harmony and last year's popular TV miniseries "Shaka Zulu." For a less commercialized look at African culture, take the kids to the movies -- at the National Museum of African Art.

Starting Saturday, the museum's putting on a children's film series focusing on folktales, art and daily life. With animated shorts and action films of varying length, each week's program follows a theme meant to show the diversity of African cultures and underlying common threads of childhood.

Saturday at 10:30 the emphasis is on African oral tradition, featuring folktales such as "Anansi the Spider" and "African Odyssey: The Red Bicycle." February 16's focus shifts to real life with five short films depicting a typical child's day in five different villages. The March 5 program is about African art and how it's integrated into daily life. April 23 centers on folktales with a moral. Included is "Nia," an animated short based on a story by Alice Walker.

The film programs, each about an hour, are aimed at children six to 15, but the whole family is welcome. They're free, in the Learning Center Lecture Hall on the new museum's second level at 950 Independence Ave. SW. Call 357-4860.