Raffi: The RD Interview

Beloved children’s entertainer Raffi talks digital distractions, partisan politics and why kids need a cabinet minister.

Raffi: The RD Interview


Your new album, Owl Singalong, is your second in as many years. This is a very productive period for you.

I joke that 2014’s Love Bug was my first children’s album in 12 years and Owl Singalong is my first in 12 months.

You call yourself a children’s troubadour. What does that title mean to you?

In days of old, troubadours were kind of like the wandering minstrels who brought news from town to town. I take my young audience very seriously in terms of their needs as people. Children are often included in the political rhetoric, but the promises aren’t delivered.

How do we change that?

In 2007, the David Suzuki Foundation asked people to finish this sentence: “If I were prime minister…” I said my cabinet would include a minister of children with a powerful voice. When we invest in kids’ well-being in their early years, it pays dividends throughout a lifetime.

LightWeb DarkWeb, your book published in 2013, explored the dangers of the Internet for kids. Any advice on how to help young people navigate the digital age? 

Parents shouldn’t jump to get their kids the latest device just because it’s on the market. Children need to play in the real world.

Easier said than done when your kid is having a temper tantrum because you took away the iPad. 

That speaks to the seductive power of these things and why screen limits are important. Otherwise, you’ve got kids playing Minecraft and identifying more with a pseudo-world than the real world. That’s crazy.

You’re 67 now, so you grew up in a different age. Was music part of your upbringing?

I grew up in a house filled with music-my father would sing Armenian folk songs and play the accordion. When I moved from Egypt to Toronto in my teens, I was in the church choir. I got my first guitar when I was 16.

Your song “I Want My Canada Back” was popular all over social media. You didn’t tie it to any political party. Was that intentional? 

Correct. I’m non-partisan, or perhaps I should say, I’m pan-partisan. I like what Elizabeth May says, which is that Parliament needs to work in a co-operative spirit.

The morning after the Liberal victory, you tweeted about Canada electing its “first beluga grad PM.” How did you realize Trudeau grew up on your music?

I met him three or four years ago, and he told me he knows every single word on Singable Songs for the Very Young, my first album, from 1976. When I tweeted, “The whole [beluga] pod is watching,” I was saying, “Hey, keep your promises.” I’m hopeful the era we’re embarking upon will be a good one for this country.

What is it about your songs-“Baby Beluga,” “The More We Get Together,” “Down by the Bay“- that continues to resonate?

I really don’t know. I used to think it was the argyle socks I wore, but I haven’t sported those in decades.

Catch Raffi live in concert!