When beloved singer-songwriter Raffi takes the stage in Seattle this weekend, he’ll be embraced by thousands of kids and their parents, many of whom grew up themselves on the songs of the musician once called “the most popular children’s singer in the English-speaking world.”
He’s sold over 15 million copies of his albums, videos, and books worldwide with classic songs like “Baby Beluga,” “Bananaphone” and “Down By The Bay.” But he could have been even bigger.
In an interview with Seattle Sounds, Raffi admits he’s left plenty of money on the table to protect the integrity of his young audience. He’s turned down lucrative gigs at Madison Square Garden because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to connect with his audience. And he’s never actively marketed or advertised his music.
“It’s just my love and respect for my young audience. I think it’s wrong to advertise to children. I’ve never done it, I never will. I’ve never done any commercial endorsements because I want the music to be paramount as to what my offering is,” says the singer in our conversation from his British Columbia home.
Raffi says he even rejected a sizable offer from some “big” Hollywood producers to make a film based on “Baby Beluga”, his signature song about a Beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium (Raffi says he was heartbroken by the whale’s death this summer from cancer,) because it would have been promoted with a massive ad campaign targeted to kids.
“That’s not what motivates the work. The work is motivated by pure love and respect for the young person.”
It’s that love and respect for young people that prompted him to step back from music making the past decade and focus his efforts on a burgeoning movement he calls “Child Honouring”, creating a foundation, putting out a best-selling book, and speaking regularly around the globe about his desire to create a world that honors children as “the best way to create sustainable, peacemaking societies.”
“It says that how we regard and treat the very young is the best way of making a peaceful and sustainable society so that’s what I’ve been promoting in the last 10 years,” he says.
He’s got plenty of help. Raffi estimates there are about 10 million so-called “Beluga Grads,” people who grew up on his music and are now raising kids of their own.
“This whole idea of creating a sustainable society should be the work of every family. We shouldn’t leave it to others,” he says. “I care about a good life not just for me and my friends, but for everybody. For every child born. What they deserve is the very best.”