You know Raffi, because “Baby Beluga” (or “Bananaphone” or “Down By The Bay” or … does it matter?) is the only thing you can play in the car that will calm your kids down when they realize, no, you’re not there yet. But do you really know Raffi — like, did you know he’s Egyptian-by-way-of-Canada? Or that his albums have been certified platinum twice (and 10 times, Canadian!)? If not, the deep dive they just took over at Vulture into everyone’s favorite Egyptian Canadian kids’ musician is required reading. Because, if you’re going to hear this much of him, you may as well know a few things about him.
1. He Only Became A Kids’ Musician Because He Hated Singing For Drunk Adults
In the 1970s, Raffi was a folksinger, crisscrossing Canada and playing Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen covers at bars. A family connection got him a gig playing to kids at schools, and he realized they made a better crowd than the “inebriated audiences who couldn’t care less if I was there or not.” That’s interesting, but nowhere near as interesting as a Raffi cover of “Hallelujah” would be.
2. He’s Not Really Down With Santa Claus
The song “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” doesn’t appear on Raffi’s Christmas album, because he thinks the whole “He knows if you’ve been bad or good” thing is a little creepy. “I mean, it’s a cute song lyric, but it’s not okay in terms of how we ought to see children. Everybody’s good and bad. It doesn’t mean you don’t get presents at Christmas.”
3. He Figured Out The Exact Right Balance Between Cute And Too Cute
There’s a reason why guys in bright yellow Teletubby costumes don’t necessarily have 4-decade careers with multiplatinum success. Researching kid’s albums in the 70s, and influenced by a blues band called The Babysitters, Raffi realized that the best music — for kids or adults — was never “cloying” or “overly syrupy,” but respectful of the listener and goofy without talking down. “You’re not going ‘Goo-goo ga-ga.’ Why would you? I just tuned into my own compassion for the little boy I had been when I was very young.”
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIiZ3vvZ78s expand=1]
4. You’re Never Going To See A Baby Beluga Ride At Disney World
Raffi has turned down countless opportunities to merchandise his music, told the producer of Shrek to buzz off when he came calling with a pitch for a Baby Beluga movie, and refused to play Madison Square Garden because he thought experience would suck for kids. How’s that for integrity, Jack White?
5. He Has No Kids But Isn’t Afraid To Backseat Parent A Bit
The singer has been married once and has no kids and is divorced, but still has some pretty cogent opinions for parents: “Tech can wait. Because, with children, their rights are their needs and their needs are their rights … I shake my head because the light speed at which things happen in shiny tech counters the experience of real life for a 3-year-old who’s only had 2 summers. I’m all for the imprinting of the real world in slow time.” Damn, Raffi.
6. He Has A “Lost Period” And It Involves A Lot Of Environmental Activism
In 1990, Raffi put out an album for adults that was inspired by the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. It was roundly panned, as were his performances on subsequent tours, which often featured overtly environmental messages. When critics suggested he should maybe make an environmental album, but for kids, his response: “It’s not their job to clean up the mess adults made.” Damn, Raffi, again!
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4MJRD4Wn6s expand=1]