Raffi

by Kathy Crockett
The My Hero Project

And the children sing: help our light to shine
May we all be fed, may we all be loved

May the elders here open their hearts
To this song of ours, may they do their part

May our dreams unfold, may we find our place
In a healthy world, embracing every race

May we all be free, may we live in peace--
Hear the children sing, hear us sing

From Turn This World Around (A Song for Nelson Mandela),
words and music by Raffi and Michael Creber

Raffi (Photo courtesy of Troubadour Music, Inc.)
Raffi (Photo courtesy of Troubadour Music, Inc.)

Raffi Cavoukian, the famed author and performer of songs such as "Baby Beluga," "Turn This World Around," and "One Light One Sun," continues to inspire a generation of children and their parents. This children's troubadour writes and sings music for children in order to deliver a message of hope, peace, and respect for the planet and its people. His beloved songs encourage children and adults alike to pitch in and make the world a cleaner, healthier place. One of his most recent songs, entitled "Turn this World Around," is a tribute to Nelson Mandela, whom Raffi admires greatly. This song, along with many of his other songs, raises awareness of all the good that can be accomplished if children--and adults--reach for their potential.

Better known simply as Raffi, this singer, songwriter, author, and child and environmental advocate was born in 1948, in Cairo, Egypt. His parents instilled in him a love of learning and music; in fact, Raffi was named after one of his mother's favorite writers and his father, a talented and respected photographer, sang in the church choir. At the age of ten, Raffi's family moved to Canada, where Raffi continues to live, work, perform, and inspire.

Raffi with the Dali Lama (Photo courtesy of Troubadour Music, Inc.)
Raffi with the Dali Lama (Photo courtesy of Troubadour Music, Inc.)

As a teenager and into his twenties, Raffi played his guitar for hours, strumming out the tunes to popular folk songs from the 1960s. He moved on to performing at local hot spots, but found his passion playing for young people. In his early days before stages and concert halls, Raffi would bring in his guitar to play for school children. It was in one of these classrooms that he was inspired to make a career of writing and performing songs for children. As he scanned the group of children, Raffi realized that each child is an individual with unique needs, but the need to thrive, and learn, and be respected was universal. He felt that if he could talk to children through music he could make a difference. And so he threw himself into learning everything he could about child development, talking to experts and working with children. Drawing on this education, Raffi makes music that captures children's trust, encourages their curiosity, and inspires their voices.

Raffi's remarkable success in the children's music industry could have commanded quite a fortune, but the money is not what interests him. He has turned in his fame to become an advocate for children and the environment, and his advocacy encompasses all that he does. Not willing to tarnish the trust he has established with children, Raffi does not allow any of his work to be used in marketing directed at children--he even turned down offers from Disney to create songs for the movie Shrek. (You can read more about Raffi's opposition to advertising to children in a letter at the bottom of this page.) In addition to writing music, Raffi is also the author of many books for children and an autobiography. With each book published, he made sure that it was printed on recycled and chlorine-free paper.

Raffi performs at Berklee College of Music (by Phil Farnsworth, courtesy of Troubadour Music, Inc.)
Raffi performs at Berklee College of Music (by Phil Farnsworth, courtesy of Troubadour Music, Inc.)

While Raffi's work in the children's music industry continues, his focus on children's inherent curiosity and imagination has shifted to a broader philosophy, one that he calls "Child Honoring." Child Honoring is a “corrective lens” through which to address issues such as a cleaner environment, a peaceful world, and better business practices. If we teach and encourage children to have honesty, altruism, compassion, and universal responsibility from an early age, then we are helping the whole planet become healthier and everyone benefits. Like dropping a pebble in a pond changes the outline of the shore, taking care to give a child a proper education, along with love and respect, can affect positive change for the future of our planet. Children who are loved and recognized as individuals with potential are more likely to become better, contributing citizens. As adults our job is to guide and educate and recognize what the very young have to offer.

Raffi puts his trust in the younger generation because for him, young people are the key to turning the world around. In his autobiography, The Life of a Children's Troubadour, he writes, "Children are the most reasonable people I know. Their days are spent trying to make sense of the world, searching for meaning, figuring things out. Their perception is magical, and their questions are intelligent quests for understanding." Adults can learn a great deal from children’s abilities to make friends easily and see connections and similarities in one another. And while they are young, they need to be encouraged to maintain their generous nature and honesty.

Raffi (Photo courtesy of Troubadour Music, Inc.)
Raffi (Photo courtesy of Troubadour Music, Inc.)

The framework of Child Honoring is already spreading through the world. Raffi, along with co-editor Sharna Olfman, has recently published an inspiring collection of essays in a book entitled Child Honoring. The book focuses on the ways in which viewing children as valuable players in pursuit of a common goal can, as the song says, "turn this world around." Some initiatives are already thriving on the principles of Child Honoring. Roots of Empathy, a classroom-based hands-on education project in Canada, fosters empathy in children in Kindergarten through grade 8 by teaching them to recognize the needs and feelings of others and to understand human development and diversity. It has already proven to reduce bullying and aggression in the school children who have participated in the project. Additionally, the Global Arts Project invites children from around the world to envision the world that they would like to live in and draw a picture of what it might look like. It helps to empower children to think about the role that they could have in creating a more peaceful and compassionate world.

From encouraging children to sing together in a common voice to empowering them to use their voices and passions to change the world, Raffi Cavoukian has taken his love of music to do so much more than simply entertain. Instead of making troops to wage war, he has created a Baby Beluga generation who are now the troops on the frontlines in a movement for peace and a healthy planet for all.

Related Links

Raffi News - The official website for news and other information about Raffi
Read A COVENANT FOR HONORING CHILDREN -
published by Raffi's Troubadour Foundation
Children's Global Arts - "Based on two themes ('the world we live in' and 'the world we want') we invite children from around the world to create and exchange cultural artforms in pursuit of a more peaceful, just, and compassionate world."
Roots of Empathy - "Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression and violence among schoolchildren while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy."