"Children's champion" is not a title that people hold lightly. Fred Rogers was so fiercely protective of the positive impact of public television that he testified before Congress and shut down a pack of professional hack politicians. Bob McAllister so detested the station managers at WNEW in Manhattan that he bought space in New York newspapers blasting them when they "accidentally" scheduled violent ads for a Charles Bronson movie during the weekly kids show Wonderama that he hosted.
Then there is Raffi Cavoukian. Arguably the most influential children's recording artist of the 1980s-1990s, Raffi set a high standard that many others attempted to follow. So many, in fact, that much of children's music dissolved into self-parody and embarrassment. There's a book somewhere about the kindie subculture of the early 2000s when Dan Zanes inadvertently birthed the "next wave" (i.e., kindie music).
Child Honouring" is his legacy, a unique social change movement, with the child at its heart, focusing on the importance of helping youngsters develop an awareness of the world around them. He also wrote a book, "LIghtweb Darkweb," about the negative impact of the Internet and social media on children and the critical need to reform social media, especially for young users.
Raffi has remained ubiquitous and omnipresent in children's music. He is the yardstick compared to all others. Are you folkie? Do you have universal appeal? How do YOU stack up to Raffi? Yet the artist stayed on the scene predominantly through repackaged greatest hits, until the upcoming LOVE BUG, Raffi's first completely new recording in 12 years.
It all comes down to the music, really. Raffi's sound is gentle acoustic guitar, with harmonies, accordian, string instruments, and occasional orchestration. There's no sudden "rocking out" or double entendre material. There's an emphasis on health and home ("Mama Loves It" and "Free to Play"), a shout out to world music ("Cool Down Reggae"), and even contemplative instrumentals ("Wind Chimes" and "Pete's Banjo"). Raffi pays tribute to Canada with "On Hockey Days" and a modified version of "This Land Is Your Land" where Canadian landmarks replace the original American ones.
Raffi gets down to serious stuff on LOVE BUG's final three tracks, starting with "This Land..." The anthemic "Blue White Planet" delivers the strong message that we have but one home for all of us:
If we keep her in our care
If we all give back our share
There'll be music everywhere on our blue white planet
The last song, "Turn This World Around," continues the theme and quietly nudges listeners where Raffi would like them to go:
Dreams of young ones born into this world
Need respect and love to come alive
Honoring the children is what we're here to do
Now is the hour and we've got the power to
Turn, turn, turn, turn this world around for the children.
Hey it ain't a bad thought. And it shames the satirists who painted children's music as untenable pablum with Raffi as its spokesman. It's a new day and there's a greater appreciation of the genre. Who better to be at the forefront of kindie music than the man who pre-dated it? Raffi watched the movement he started grow and now rejoins it; in fine voice, confident, and spiritually healthy. We're not exactly sure of LOVE BUG's ultimate destination but Raffi encourages families to bring your kids along on the journey.
LOVE BUG is available on Tuesday, July 15 from Raffi's website, Amazon, and iTunes.
Here is a video of one of Raffi's most beloved songs, "Baby Beluga":