Raffi: A Child's Prophet Returns to the U.S. Stage

Raffi: A Child's Prophet Returns to the U.S. Stage

Raffi Cavoukian, better known to millions of children across two generations simply as “Raffi,” has returned to the U.S. stage for the first time in a decade to perform for a new generation of children–and their parents, who never stopped loving the music they grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s. Raffi opened his tour in Berkeley, CA on Apr. 6 and will travel to the East Coast and the Midwest, with proceeds benefiting his children’s charity.

My wife and I took our 14-month old, Maya, to see Raffi’s performance in Santa Barbara this past Sunday. Maya was first introduced to Raffi’s music at her daycare, and after hearing his songs in the background when I picked her up one afternoon, I immediately bought a collection of his CDs, re-connecting with music I had not heard in about twenty-five years. YouTube videos and DVDs soon followed, and Maya is now a huge fan. 

Watching Maya watch Raffi is a magical experience. She is transfixed by the music, and has begun singing many of the words and copying his gestures. Returning to Los Angeles after a long flight from Chicago, a sleeping Maya woke up in baggage claim at LAX and began singing “oat…oat…oat…” from Raffi’s rendition of “Apples and Bananas.” So we decided to make the drive up the coast Sunday so she could be part of the fun in person.

We parked and joined the groups of kids and parents walking excitedly toward the Arlington Theatre–it was hard to tell whether the children or their parents were more excited. The Arlington is a majestic Mission style hall–probably too big and dark for a children’s concert, truth be told. At times Maya seemed daunted by the space, at other times eager to explore it, walking (holding hands for balance) up and down the wide aisles. 

That didn’t stop her from enjoying it. As Raffi came onstage, a look of amazement crossed her face. Could this be happening? Was she really in a concert hall with other children, just like on the DVDs–and was that really Raffi onstage, a little rounder and quite a bit grayer? Yes it was–and Maya hit her “oat…oat…oat” right on cue.

Raffi has taken a step back from the frequent performances and tours of twenty and thirty years ago, when he became an icon of children’s music. He has devoted much of his energy to his charitable work, which includes environmental causes. He never quite left the music scene, however and began using his songs to raise awareness about his broader concerns. Here he is in an intimate 2007 visit with all-grown-up fans at Yale:

Raffi continued to write songs, and performed one of his newer works, a très Canadien tribute to hockey, for the Santa Barbara audience. His politics veer quite sharply left, as a look at his Twitter feed quickly reveals (he retweets Code Pink, and not in an ironic way). Yet his music retains a universal appeal–even in what he calls a “protest song” he wrote for the United Nations International Year of the Child, “All I Really Need.” The chorus is: “All I really need is a song in my heart/Food in my belly/And love in my family.” He starts with the humanistic essence–a song–rather than physical needs, about which we may often have conflicting solutions.

Raffi’s message may have a political subtext, but it transcends politics. I didn’t need to think hard about that to figure it out. I just needed to watch my daughter sway and dance and sing, loving the music as much as I do.

For tour dates please see raffinews.com