Raffi, one of the most successful artists in the children's recording world and recognized as a tireless children's advocate, recently celebrated 25 years in the children's music industry. A pioneer of the genre beginning with his debut release, Singable Songs for the Very Young (1976), Let's Play is his first studio album in more than six years. He was not idle in the years between albums, however. He penned his autobiography (The Life of a Children's Troubadour) and founded the Troubadour Institute for Child Honoring. Raffi was in an appropriately playful mood when PW recently spoke with him via telephone from his home in Vancouver.
PW:Let's Play is your first album of new children's songs since 1995's Raffi Radio. What made the timing right to bring out some new material?
R: Long time, no recording! I felt like spinning a disk, as they say. I had to do something in the new millennium, right?
PW: Is there a specific philosophy behind the music you create? What do you hope children (and parents) take away from your recordings?
R: From the beginning, my work with children has had a simple idea behind it: that a child is a whole person worthy of respect. That's the core philosophy on which the music is built and the principle upon which I founded the Troubadour Institute of Child Honoring [the institute works to support initiatives and organizations that promote children's all-around well-being]. As for what families take from my recordings, my music has always been playful as opposed to didactic. Songs can be musical toys that children and their families play with. Music is a wonderful, unifying thing to share. I think we humans were all born to sing.
PW: What inspired the title and theme of your new album?
R: It's all about the importance of play. Play is the work that children do as they learn about the world. Child's play has been the basis of all creative thinking. The title coming out now is a commentary on our time. We live in a world that's stuck in fast forward. But you can't hurry children. They learn in real time and they need to learn in the real world. I was thrilled to have [master fiddler] Natalie MacMaster play on this. And anytime you have Jane Goodall doing chimpanzee sounds on your album, it's pretty special.
PW: Will you be touring/performing to support Let's Play?
R: I'll make a few selected appearances, but I'm at a point in my career when I don't need to be the king of the road anymore. It's different now than it was at the beginning. Keeping it to a smaller number of concerts makes me appreciate it all the more. It's like a musical love-in; I love being with my fans.
PW: How has the world of children's music changed in the past 25 years?
R: Parents certainly have more to choose from these days, that's the major change. The challenge these days, and in the '90s, for children's music makers is how to get your message across in a video-oriented entertainment world. I consciously made my last two albums as celebrations of audio; I didn't make videos of them.
Unlike a video, which is a pre-fab image factory, songs and books are made for stimulating the imagination and that, for young children, is essential.