by Craig HarrisChildren's music was revolutionized by the recordings of Egypt-born and British Columbia-based singer-songwriter Raffi. Although he launched his musical career as a Dylan and Joni Mitchell-inspired singer-songwriter, Raffi had his greatest success when he directed his performances and recordings to youngsters during the 1980s. Raffi's albums of children's music have sold more than eight million copies worldwide and have led to him being called, "The Bruce Springsteen of the younger set".
The son of a well-known portrait photographer and amateur accordion player, Raffi's earliest dreams were of teaching history. Inspired by the popularity of American folk music, Raffi acquired a guitar while in high school. Although he attended the University of Toronto for a couple of years, he dropped out to pursue a full-time career in music. After sharpening his skills in Toronto's folk music clubs and coffeehouses, Raffi turned to children's music at the suggestion of his mother-in-law, who requested that he write and record songs for youngsters at the pre-school she ran. Taught songs by his wife, Debi Pike, a kindergarten teacher, Raffi produced a tape that was so strong that copies were requested by other schools. Borrowing four thousand dollars from a local bank, Raffi recorded his debut album, Singable Songs For The Very Young, in a small, basement, recording studio. Although it sold well, the album became a major success after being up for distribution by A&M.
Raffi continued to focus on children's music throughout the late-1970s and 1980s. Although he recorded an adult-oriented album, Love Light, in 1977, Raffi turned his total attention to the younger set the following year. In 1983, Raffi received the prestigious Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian award, for the work with children.
After taking a year off from performing, in 1989, Raffi re-invented himself as a "eco-troubadour", performing songs about the environment for adults as well as youngsters upon his return. An album of ecologically-minded songs, Evergreen Everblue, was released in 1990.
In Februrary 1996, the Rounder record label announced that they had reached an agreement with Raffi to reissue his first eleven albums. The first release, The Singable Songs Collection, united Raffi's first three albums.
Raffi, whose music blends folk, reggae, ragtime, gospel, jazz, country and calypso influences, has remained faithful to his non-commercial approach. Accompanied by the Rise And Shine Band, which features Dennis Pendrith (bass), Bucky Berger (drums), Nancy Walker (keyboards) and Mitch Lewis (guitar), Raffi has refused to play in theaters larger than 3,000 seats with ticket prices no more than $8.50. Although he's turned down all commercial endorsements, Raffi has allowed Crown Publishing to produce a series of illustrated books based on his best-known songs.
Raffi has produced two videotapes of his performances -- A Young Children's Concert With Raffi in 1985 and Raffi and the Rise and Shine Band in 1988.