When Lucy stayed at Grammie & Grandpa’s house while Rosie was being born, Grammie introduced her to the magic of Raffi. I had heard of Raffi, but I must admit, I had a bad attitude.
We had checked out some of Raffi’s music for one of last year’s road trips, but we weren’t really impressed. “Lucy is not the kind of girl who gets into that lame kids’ music,” I thought to myself. “She’s a hip toddler. She loves They Might Be Giants, after all!” So, I rolled my eyes a bit, and at first just endured watching the Raffi video. With a newborn and a toddler, I was feeling pretty desperate.
Photo: Lucy herself has been known to experiment with musical composition, but that’s another story altogether.
But slowly, slowly, my heart began to turn. I found myself humming “The More We Get Together” even when we weren’t watching the video. I began to see Raffi less as a cheesy, dorky singer, but as a wholesome, child-focused, musically accomplished entertainer. After a few weeks of singing “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Mister Sun” in response to Lucy’s frequent requests, we decided to purchase a few of Raffi’s early albums.
During Potty Training Weekend, we soaked up both the sun and Singable Songs for the Very Young pretty much non-stop. As I struggled with my potty-training-induced anxieties, I noticed that singing along with “Baby Beluga” soothed my rough edges a bit. Whenever I heard “All I Really Need,” I started to cry. So, I began to wonder, “Who is this guy, anyway? Is he still touring? And what’s his real name?” Curiosity got the best of me, and I checked out his website where I learned about his autobiography. Next step: the Chicago Public Library.
His name, it turns out, really is Raffi — Raffi Cavoukian. Named after a famous Armenian poet, he and his family emigrated to Canada from Egypt when he was about ten years old. He grew up as “the weird Armenian kid” at school, became a hippie folk-singer in his early twenties, and accidentally fell into children’s entertainment when his schoolteacher girlfriend and her mother convinced him to hold a few concerts (and then produce a few albums) for kids. It seems that he was one of the first musicians to make recordings of songs that are accessible to kids but good enough musically to appeal to adults. (And it didn’t hurt that Daniel Lanois, producer of many U2 and Bob Dylan albums, recorded Raffi’s first couple of albums, and the now-legendary Bruce Cockburn joined in on some tracks.)
As Raffi got older, he became extremely concerned about the negative impact humans are having on nature. A lot of his later albums focus on this theme, and although he can seem a tiny bit preachy at times, it’s for a good cause. Lately, he has really become an activist, rallying people around his child-honouring philosophy that we should protect the Earth so that our children don’t have to clean up the huge mess we’ve made. He certainly does have a point.
Photo: Shake your sillies out!
By now I can say that I’m a bonafide Raffi convert. True, some of his mid-’eighties music is pretty corny and synth-heavy. True, he has recorded a few real duds. And true, he’s made some lame attempts at crossing over into music for grown-ups. But somehow, listening to his early children’s albums really lighten me up. When I’m feeling harried and stressed, singing along with “Little Red Wagon” or “Shake My Sillies Out” brings me back from the world of have-to’s into Lucy’s realm of enjoying the messy moment. This guy has an amazing ability to remind me to be grateful for my two beautiful children and these precious days we have together. His music helps me to bear the fruits of the Spirit in my everyday life — so I thank God for Raffi and the good things he has brought into this world.
And thanks to Grammie for introducing us to Raffi!