Interview With Beloved Children’s Musician, Raffi

For nearly four decades, Raffi has been captivating children through his music. Early hits like Baby Beluga and Down By The Bay are still sung in many classrooms today. We had a chance to catch up with the musician and talk about his new album, Owl Singalong, and why he thinks his music is so impactful.

Tell us about your latest album Owl Singalong. Owl Singalong was inspired both by my two year old grand niece, Lucie, and by the owl sounds in my back yard. Lucie is fond of her owl stuffie; she loves to hold it up and say, “Owl!” I’m sure she’ll sing along with these singable songs. And, you might say, “Owl Singalong too!”

Owl Singalong features 16 tunes, including updates of classics (“The More We Sing Together,” “Dog on the Bus,” “The Lion Pokey,” “Abiyoyo”) as well as new songs, such as a pair that celebrate the magic of nature: “Garden Song,” and “Blossoms,” and the reggae-flavored “Green Dream,” a song that embodies my career-long environmental advocacy.

What is your favorite thing about performing for children?  I love the singalong. I love hearing kid’s voices belting out “Baby Beluga,” their excitement on hearing “Down By The Bay,” and their laughter when I sing something funny. It’s a thrill to hear families singing together, and to hear older voices mixed in among the young. I love the participation of the audience that has come to play with the music they love.

What is your favorite song to perform and why? I’m not sure I have a favorite song to perform. The whole concert itself is my favorite. I do enjoy singing quiet songs as well as the more boisterous ones.

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Why is music so important for children? Music for children is a gift that keeps on giving. For young children singable songs offer a natural form of expressing one’s self bravely, with voice, with feeling. It’s also a social experience, singing in a group. Singing in different rhythms teaches a form of math; singing in different languages has obvious benefits; and of various subjects is its own learning. What’s more, singing is natural to being human. It’s the vibrational play of life.

What is it about your music that resonates so deeply with children? I believe that my recordings are heard by children as coming from a friend; they sense me as one who loves them and is offering fun and interesting songs for play and imagining. It’s a privilege and an honor to be a friend to countless children.

Do you have a favorite song on the new album? On my new Owl Singalong CD, I have many favorites: The title song, “Dog on the Bus,” “Somos el Barco,” and “Abiyoyo” are among them.

As a veteran performer, what are you looking forward to this time around?  Each year, I’m a new person on the concert stage, curious to see how we’ll do this time singing together.  And I get excited to present a new song or two among the old faves. I just love how the love in the concert hall is palpable, especially with so many “beluga grads” always in attendance. This is what I look forward to.

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Raffi’s new album Owl Singalong is available now (Rounder Records/Concord Music Group). Raffi performs at NYC’s Town Hall on Sunday, May 22, at 1pm:

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