Raffi convert

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!

11 Replies to “Raffi convert”

  1. Although I still haven’t broken out the Raffi, I have to admit to a soft spot for Dan Zanes. And he looks so radical! I love him. I want to be in his band.

  2. Wow, I admit when I saw Raffi I thought, ewww. We sing Shake the Sillies out a lot in Sunday school. Mostly because I want to shake a couple of them silly when they are being naughty.

    I always enjoyed the Wiggles. But I’m wierd.

  3. We listened to a lot of Raffi when Alex and Joseph were little and then a friend introduced us to Ralphs World. He is a Chicago, local and our friend Eric B was in the first CD. If you have not heard his stuff…it too is fun. So when you need a change. You might want to check out Ralph. Burl Ives and Woddie Gutherie have some good stuff too…if you need a little old time folksy.

    Happy singing and making music together as a family!

  4. We too found Ralphs world. Way fun. But I grew up with Raffi and so I sing those to maddy too. Lately we have been into the sunday school songs (I’m in the lord’s army, whose the king of the jungle, this is the day and of course jesus loves me). I love listing to Maddy sing, especially when I hear her teaching her friends songs about Jesus.

  5. Abby loves Raffi too – Singable Songs and One Light, One Sun (?). The first time I went to the library to check out CDs I was looking for the mass market Little People CDs and the librarian said, “Oh there’s way better music than that!” and led us to Wiggleworms. These are 2 CDs produced by the Old Town School of Folk Music (right here in Chicago) based on their kids music program (think Kindermusik) and I have to say they are great! They even have*free” daily outdoor classes at Millenium Park in the summer! http://www.oldtownschool.org/concerts/community/wiggleworms.html

  6. One more vote for Ralph…and his world.
    And if you like the Ralph, also check out

    Laurie Berkner “Under a Shady Tree”

    Good stuff.

  7. Hey Ann, another recovering music snob here. You know, when you were a music major and all… ;)

    Your post is making me reconsider Raffi, though. We have a couple of Jana Alayra cds, and it’s pretty good! Christine really like one of her songs: “Jump jump jump into the light light light. Run run run away from what’s not right… Run to Jesus, give him your heart”.

    Can you do a post about kid bible story books you like?

  8. hmmmm…not heard of Raffi before but I don’t claim to be super knowledgeable in children’s music…yet. :) I just checked out a video made for Banana Phone on youtube. Definitely something kids would enjoy – wacky and creative. I’ll have to check out some of his stuff and see if Eli enjoys it. On the broader topic, Nathan and I have heard about a lot of fun children’s music from NPR. Check out their website and see what you can find. One chick we recently heard about did some music for the movie Juno. Beware, some of here stuff is not so kid friendly and has a couple of “choice words” – though the music style still sounds kid-like. T.J. McCloud is a christian artist that my mom introduced us to (pretty much the only kids CD we own besides the Disney soundtrack collection). She works with his aunt or something like that. He’s recently been working with kids in the D.R. Anyhow, we have the Playground CD and it has a sort of Jack Johnson sound to it. We played God You are so Big for Eli’s dedication. Just to preface, it is children’s music and it is christian so there’s a bit of cheese in it (hope I’m not offending anyone with my description – my apologies) but I would categorize it as tolerable from the adult perspective and it has good messages, including one about taking care of the Earth which we are big fans of!

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