It's hard to envision a world without Raffi.
Even people without kids – we in the kindie world refer to them as "civilians" – have an awareness of the man who almost single-handedly spearheaded this movement. I don't want to belabor the point, but yell "Raffi!" in a crowded movie theater and someone will know who you're talking about.
It's thus mind-bending to realize that such an influential figure, a seminal individual, a statesman for children's music (okay, he's no Abraham Lincoln) could take a 12-year break from his best-known industry. That's almost twice the average age of his preferred listener. An acceptable dog's lifetime. But in 2014, Raffi returned to the scene and toured to support his CD, LOVE BUG. And he's back to welcome 2016 with OWL SINGALONG. It's not like we should be surprised that Raffi is recording new music. It's just that after an extended absence, we didn't expect it. And then expect more, so soon.
Since his debut in the 1970s, Raffi has remained a dependable acoustic source of warm, hummable children's tunes. OWL SINGALONG contains reworkings of "More We Sing Together," "Dog on the Bus," and "The Lion Pokey." Pete Seeger's "Abiyoyo" wraps up the collection. In between, there's shapes ("You May Be A Triangle") and personal achievement ("I’m Not Small"). And for you French Canadiens, "Dans La Forêt Lointaine" (In the Distant Forest) harkens back to Raffi's days in Toronto and Montreal coffeehouses.
When Raffi played Manhattan's Town Hall in 2013, it fell on the same day as the family festival of Kidstock. Befuddled kindie pundits tore themselves from BAM to make an almost-obligatory pilgrimage. The next day, I anticipated the set list and lamented being unable to triangulate my day (where I was tasked with wrangling both kids). And this from a man who spent nary a moment listening to Raffi (my entire family had aged out, so no Beluga grads in my house) during his heyday. My initial exposure was a concert DVD at a friend's family's New Years Day party to entertain their kids. "Raffi?" I inquired. "He's a better choice that Elmo," I was told. How little we knew. If only I had then the knowledge base I have now.
The good news is, if you liked Raffi when you were a kid, you'll be excited to introduce your kids to that Raffi. Sure, there's a focus on ecology ("Green Dream" and "Garden Song"), but that's to be expected from a man who founded an organization dedicated to honoring and respecting the Earth and Children. Oh, and there's no bad news in that respect.
For many performers, children's music stays a hobby, a sideline, something to fill some family time until their own kids are grown. Rare are the artists who persevere and dig deeper into the darker corners of childhood to deliver more than just wistful homilies. Under the classification of children's music, Raffi remains almost sui generis, a genre unto himself. Long may he strum.
OWL SINGALONG is available for pre-order and drops January 15, 2016 from Amazon and iTunes.
Here is the video for "Owl Singalong":