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Jeff Moehlis: The More We Listen to Raffi, The Happier We’ll Be

Children's singer and advocate to perform at the Arlington Theatre

Raffi has been called “the most popular children’s singer in the English-speaking world.” It all started with his 1976 album Singable Songs for the Very Young, which includes songs “The More We Get Together,” “Down By the Bay,” “Willoughby Wallaby Woo” and “Going to the Zoo,” and that was notable for bringing the highest quality in recording and production to children’s music. He went on to release many other hugely popular children’s albums, and along the way wrote classics like “Baby Beluga” and “Bananaphone.”

He is also a passionate advocate for children, and co-founded the Centre for Child Honouring, which works to restore communities and ecosystems by addressing the universal needs of children. He has been honored as a recipient of the Order of Canada and the United Nations’ Earth Achievement Award.

Raffi will be performing a show for kids and adults at the Arlington Theatre at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 7. Tickets are available by clicking here. He graciously took time out of his busy schedule to talk on the phone about his upcoming concert and other activities. Click here for the full interview, with lots more on Raffi’s advocacy for children.

Children's singer Raffi will be playing at the Arlington Theatre on Sunday, April 7.
Children’s singer Raffi will be playing at the Arlington Theatre on Sunday, April 7.

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming concert in Santa Barbara?

Raffi: It’ll be a whole lot of singalong fun. I’ll be singing the favorites that the fans know and love, plus throwing in a few fun surprises as well. Did I mention that there will be a lot of corny humor?

JM: Sounds great. Have you ever performed in Santa Barbara before?

R: Oh, yes, I certainly have. It’s always been fun, and I look forward to another really good time. This time it’ll be different because the Beluga Grads will be in attendance. You know what I mean by Beluga Grad?

JM: Not really.

R: Well, there are an estimated 10 million Raffi fans now who have grown up, and many of whom have kids of their own. Those who have sung “Baby Beluga” as children and who are now adults, I call them Beluga Grads. They’re between 18 and 40.

JM: I understand that this show will benefit for the Centre for Child Honouring that you founded. Can you tell me a little bit about that Centre?

R: The Centre works to advance a universal ethic of honoring the child as the best way to create humane, and therefore sustainable cultures, peacemaking cultures. And we say that how we treat and regard the very young is the key to positive outcomes for a lifetime, in productivity, personal happiness, resourcefulness. So it makes sense that when we tend to the formative needs of the very young, and these needs are universal in growing children, when we meet their formative needs they can give us the best of themselves and they can feel the best, as well. It’s a win-win.

Our slogan is “Respecting Earth and Child,” because we feel that that makes total sense. You respect the child, you have to respect the Earth’s habitat, the planetary habitat that gave birth to this person. So the Centre as a beneficiary of these concerts, it’s a very happy situation. It’s a gentle way for my family audience to find out about what I’ve been doing in the last 10 years.

JM: Going back a bit, how did you get into writing and performing children’s music?

R: I have a lot written about this. In fact, I wrote an autobiography called The Life of a Children’s Troubadour, released back in 1999. But it all began for me on a nursery school floor in north Toronto. When I was married for a time to a kindergarten teacher, a marvelous, compassionate woman, she taught me all about the young child as a whole person. And so respect for the young child as a whole person has been the hallmark of my career.

That’s why I have not done any commercial endorsements of any kind throughout the three or four decades that I’ve been doing this work. That’s why I’m against all direct advertising and marketing to children, because it’s not ethical. I call on America to ban that practice of direct marketing to children, just as a number of Scandinavian countries have done, as the Province of Quebec has done. You can’t advertise to kids 12 and under in Quebec.

JM: What, in your opinion, makes a children’s song good? Or is that possible to answer?

R: (laughs) Well, you know, songs that appeal to a child’s imagination, songs that are funny, tickle your funny bone, songs that are singable for a child, and songs that are real, about things that are real in a child’s life. You can sing about favorite foods, you can sing about bananas. The imagination comes in when it’s “Bananaphone,” you see? Kids love to sing, they love the natural world, they love animals, they love humor, they love rhyming. You can have a lot of fun, as I’ve done over the years.

JM: I have to ask, do you have a favorite among the songs that you wrote or perform?

R: Probably “Baby Beluga,” because it has struck such a chord with so many millions. I love beluga whales. They’re just the most amazing creatures in the world. Very childlike, too. They seem to have a smile on their face, and they’re known as singers. Fishermen used to call them “sea canaries,” they’re so loquacious. My other favorite would be “Bananaphone.”

JM: Where are you speaking to me from?

R: I’m speaking from the Centre for Child Honouring office in Salt Spring Island, Canada. It’s on the West Coast in British Columbia Province. So you might say I’m just up the coast from Santa Barbara.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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