Raffi has a new CD! His first new music in twelve years is called Love Bug and it will be available tomorrow.
It was a special thrill to talk to someone whose music has been so important to our family. Many car trips were more memorable than the ultimate destinations because we all sang along to “Baby Beluga,” “Down By the Bay,” and dozens more of his “singable songs.” And I am so grateful for his integrity as a performer, declining offers to sing in enormous arenas because he always wanted his young fans to be able to feel connected to him in a way that is impossible in those venues, and refusing all kinds of lucrative endorsements because he did not want to exploit his relationship with the children who loved his music.
Raffi has devoted himself to protecting children through initiatives like Child Honouring, a program that calls on all adults to commit to a world where all children are entitled to love, to dream, and to belong to a loving “village” — and to pursue a life of purpose.
You really recorded Love Bug in your living room?
Yes! In fact, 80 percent of it was recorded in my living room on the west coast. So you might say that my beautiful view of forest and water and islands and the mountains in the background was the backdrop that inspired the music and even helped get it to sound right. The title song Love Bug that was entirely recorded in my living room and for the first time, on a title song of mine, on a kids’ album I played piano as well as guitar. So that was fun.
The audio was excellent and that’s why I recorded there. I have a wood floor and I have sliding glass doors, and also a stone fireplace. So the combination of wood and glass and stone is excellent especially with the angles from this sort of vaulted ceiling. All of that combined to give me sweet spots. And that’s what I learned, it’s to record where it sounds good rather than go to a sterile studio space and then make it sound good afterwards and add all kinds of effects of sorts.
Who else is on the CD?
Most of the musicians were people I knew either in my community or in Vancouver. But this time around my niece, Kristen Cavoukian, she sang on This Land is Your Land. Her husband Ivan Rosenberg is a wonderful Dobro player and he plays other instruments as well. He played Dobro on the song Water In the Well and he played banjo on Pete’s Banjo. I also had young voices from the island where I live. My island is called Salt Spring Island and it’s a beautiful place.
As it happened on the Love Bug song, the two kids who sing on it, their names are Julia and Gabrielle Love. Can you believe it? Their last name is Love! And their mother Karen Love sings beautifully on the song Magic Wand. So there are many stories around this album, in how it came into being.
I know you are concerned about children spending too much time indoors with electronic devices. Why is it important to get them back outside?
Richard Louv wrote a book about about that called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. The way I approach this question is that it is the work of newborn babies and infants to bond with not only their caregivers but also the real world that births them into being. The wondrous three-dimensional world of wonders, the place where they explore and touch and feel the elements, the place that gives them other seasons, the flow of a long summer, an unhurried childhood. These are the makings of a person who is filled with wonder, who has her or his imagining capabilities strongly intact. This is the person who is going to do well in life. Not the person who is introduced to infotech early with the misguided idea that it will give them a leg up on that form of communication. That is nonsense actually because infotech is going to change. Five years from now it’s going to be different from what is now. And as I like to remind people, I began to do email when I was 50. Doesn’t hurt me any… I started being on Twitter when I was 62. Wasn’t hard to catch up.
It’s just complete nonsense to suggest that we need to start kids early on infotech. The opposite is true; it is our duty to make sure that children have the kind of play that lets them explore as I said the three dimensions of the real world and also let them have moments of boredom from which a great creativity can spring.
Why do you think boredom is so important?
Well maybe the parents have grown up with too much screen time themselves. And by screen time we used to means television. Now it could also mean other visual screens such as computer game screens, and laptops and the rest of the shiny tech as I call it in my book Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us. Sherry Turkle at MIT made a very good point. If you don’t teach children how to be alone, how to relish solitude, you deprive them of a wonderful gift and they will grow up being lonely because the present moment will never feel good enough unless it’s hyped up.
And you’ve got adults taking workshops, just to learn how to be. Think about that…Just to enjoy this cup of tea, just to enjoy this moment’s gentle breeze as it comes in. I mean, these are the basics to life; these are the riches that we all share.
I love the way that you have titled the book Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us because you’re not trying to say that technology is all bad that we should be haunted by it or terrified of it. You are very balanced in talking about the good and bad. Particularly in the music business, since your last album, hasn’t social media really transformed the way that music is marketed?
As I was saying earlier, it’s the lightweb technology, the digital technology that allows me to record in my living room. What we used to call the recording console was this huge, 6 foot wide, complex piece of machinery. It was like a car. Well, that thing now is in the laptop, and there is a little connector box and my engineer brings very fine microphones, the ones in fact that are in recording studios, he brings them over, the microphones are connected to the little box, the box connects to the laptop and on the laptop has a professional recording software program, away we go, and visual editing is easy. I’ve mentioned all this in the book. In fact I start the book by saying, as a tech enthusiast and troubadours… So I put my tech enthusiast label on right away so that people can see I’m critiquing infotech from that vantage point.
Since my last album 2002, twelve years, we’ve had social media come on the scene and so you could say that Love Bug is the first Raffi CD of the digital era. And I think that’s important because of how social media has changed parenting and how it has changed childhood. And in brief parents now raise children in two different worlds, the real world and the virtual. By that I mean they have to be constantly supervising what their kids are doing in the virtual world. How they’re relating to these shiny tech devices.
I’m asked this question a lot now. People say, “How have children changed with the world changing around them?” And I say well, children in their basic need, young children I’ m talking about because they seem to be my primary audience, young children’s needs don’t change.
As many child development experts such as Berry Brazelton and others have taught us, children’s needs are irreducible and universal. Those needs don’t change. What changes is the world around them and I think that’s where parents, teachers and policymakers and social critics such as ourselves have a duty to remind people that the culture that we create around children must be child honoring, it must respect their innate capabilities, their innate imagining abilities, there innate need for play, it must not overwhelm the young psyche. I quote Columbia University’s expert of technology, Neil Postman. He is the one who helped me understand the importance of this quote: he said it’s not ‘what’ they watch but ‘that’ they watch. In those early years less is more because it’s the emotional intelligence which is by the way one of the nine child honoring principles, its emotional intelligence. That’s the work of the early years.
Did your family love music?
I certainly grew up with it in my family. It was probably because my father was an expert musician. He played a number of instruments including accordion, which is where I got my love for that instrument. I actually love accordions. But he also sang in the Armenian Church choir, and I sang on that choir with him. That’s before in my newly found home in Canada because I grew up in Cairo, Egypt but we migrated when I was 10 years old. In Toronto when I was growing up as a teen, I certainly heard the music of the Beatles and also Motown. And I also had the terrific inspiration of Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and these people, these great early musicians.
I saw that Pete Seeger was an inspiration for this album. Do you have a favorite Pete Seeger song?
Probably “If I Had a Hammer,” which I actually sang recently. I might record “If I Had a Hammer” and have it be the bonus song on my next CD. Bonus songs are kind of like saying, “Okay, this is the album I did but here is one more song that may or may not belong to this album but here it is, to give it some creative latitude.” I feel like the baton has been passed on to many of us who sing and love sing-along.
Tell me about the young woman that your book is dedicated to.
Lightweb Darkweb is dedicated to Amanda Todd who at the age of fifteen in Vancouver took her life after two or three years of sexual extortion by an online predator. And this is a tragic death that actually could have been averted had the RCMP acted quickly to have smoked out the perpetrator because they know how to do that. In a similar case in Ontario the RCMP intervened quickly and the boy’s life was saved. But the stronger point here perhaps also is the group called the Red Hood Project citizen’s group to urge for corporate social responsibility by the billion dollar social media platform such as Facebook. When we co-wrote an open letter to Facebook’s CEO, Sheryl Sandberg including, signatories including Carol Todd, Amanda’s mother, there was silence. Not a response, not one. And I think that’s tragic because I think the business model of billion dollar corporations that care more about profits than the people their services affect, there’s something wrong with that picture.
You have said that with this album you also honored another recently passed hero, Nelson Mandela. How did his inspiration touch you?
How can I talk about Mandela? The wonderful thing about those who inspire us deeply is that they live on forever. And Mandela’s courage, after 26 years of being imprisoned, and his nobility in that the way he conducted himself, his captors felt like they were the ones in captivity. You have to kneel at the foot of that man. So anyway I was inspired by his words in the year 2000 when he said, empty rhetoric is not enough he said we must turn this world around for the children. I thought that would make a great song and I wrote a song and I recorded it. Got to sing it for him in Toronto in 2001 at Ryerson University and that was an unforgettable event. When I was finished singing the song he stood up and actually shook my hand and it’s something I’ll never forget.