For many new parents, Raffi’s not just a children’s artist — he’s the soundtrack to their youth. So, with this very idea in mind, the beloved singer-songwriter is heading back on the road after nearly ten years away from touring. He’s calling his return to the stage “#belugagrads,” a nod to the moms and dads that grew up with his music, and the new fans they’ve spawned. This Sunday, Raffi brings his #belugagrads tour to Santa Barbara for a show at the Arlington Theatre, where he promises to play all of his most beloved children’s songs, from “Baby Beluga” to “Bananaphone” to “Down By the Bay.”
Below, we chat with Raffi about his new tour, his music, and his ongoing humanitarian work for the betterment of children everywhere.
What sparked the interest to start touring again? I hadn’t done it in ten years and I really just started thinking it was time to sing on stage again.
How have the shows been thusfar? It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been reconnecting with my fans in Canada and now I’m headed to the US. I’m really looking forward to connecting with the American beluga grads. These parents are coming and singing their old Raffi favorites with their own children, and it’s a really unique situation. It’s a real joy for me to see it and to hear it and to feel it in the concert hall, that magic between parent and child. It’s a joyful situation. I’m very lucky.
What do you hope kids — and parents — take away from the show? Same as always: a lot of joy, a lot of love felt, a lot of love shared. Songs have a way of moving us, especially in our childhood. They can inspire us to be the best in life. They can inspire us to preserve and protect all that’s precious about the world we love. I let the songs do their magic.
Growing up, who were the artists that did that for you? For me it was my father’s singing at family parties that I remember most from childhood. I’m grateful for the talent that I inherited, I guess. [Laughs] I got a lot of his artistic talent and, in my life, saw that there was an opportunity to make music for kids that respected the child as a whole person. That’s been the core value for my whole career, respecting the child as a whole person.
You also have a book coming out that deals specifically with keeping the Internet and social media safe for children. How did that come about? Interestingly, my sister is Dr. Anne Cavoukian, a nationally recognized privacy expert, and she said to me that I should really look at the privacy and safety issues in the world of social media. Last October, when a Vancouver area teen named Amanda Todd took her own life because she had been cyber bullied for a long time on Facebook, I just thought that I had to do something, so I did three things. On my website, childhonouring.org, I instituted an Internet safety program, and the webpage for that has a number of resources for parents about Internet safety. I also co-founded a grassroots movement called The Red Hood Project, and we call for systemic safety. We’re demanding of the social media providers that they build safety by design into their platforms, not leave it to the end user. Now matter how well parents try to supervise their kids’ online behavior, it’s almost an impossible job. We think social media companies have the responsibility to provide safety for the users, especially young users. And the third thing I did in response to this tragedy was to write this book, Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons to Reform Social Media Before It Re-forms Us. The book is basically saying that we have an extraordinary opportunity in the Internet, in what it affords us — the “lightweb” — but we have to realize that there’s also a “darkweb,” and unless we minimize the perils we can’t fully enjoy the promise.
Your career, for all intents and purposes, has spanned the dawn of the Internet Age. From your perspective, how have things changed? The world keeps changing, of course, but children’s basic, irreversible needs don’t change. One thing that’s alarming is that legally in our society corporations can and do exploit children for profit by directly advertising to them — something I’ve never done in my four decade career. What we need is a culture that respects children, one that doesn’t try to trick them from a young age.
What can people expect from Sunday’s show You know, love is the greatest power in creation. The love for our children, our desire to the best for them and see them protected and guide them into having the best childhood and adolescence. That power, that love is our greatest joy because from that spring the actions that will give our children the best chance to grow into healthy, productive citizens. That’s the love that I champion both in my songs, in my concerts, and in all my other work.
Raffi’s #belugagrads tour heads to the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.) on Sunday, April 7 at 1 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 963-4408 or visit thearlingtontheatre.com.