Raffi works to save the world one children's song at a time


Even though Raffi has no kids -- in fact, never plans to -- he sure can make you feel like a bad parent.

Forget about making sure your children brush their teeth, or go to the best school. The kids' music superstar wants to know if you're doing enough for the environment. And if you're doing enough to ensure that your child's self-esteem is as secure as Barney's.

It's not that Raffi thinks parents are slouching. He just believes there's serious work to be done. And kids can help.

Raffi started singing in coffeehouses in the late '60s. Today, Raffi is intent on transferring peace, love and understanding to the little ones.

The 45-year-old Canadian -- whose first kids' album in seven years, "BananaPhone," will soon be released -- performs at Pier Six tomorrow.

During his sabbatical from kids' music, Raffi did some professional exploration and personal soul-searching.

Four years ago, he released "Evergreen Everblue," an album aimed at the MTV crowd. It sold a respectable 150,000 copies, but that number doesn't come close to matching his kids' album sales. On the personal front, Raffi and his wife, Debi, broke up after almost 20 years together.

"During my time off, I was busy," says Raffi in a recent phone interview. "I was just doing different things than children's music. I performed for teen-agers, conferences. I wrote, and sang in, the movie 'Ferngully.' I sang at the inaugural with President Clinton."

As popular as kids' music is getting these days -- it has a relatively small market share, but according to Billboard magazine it is one of the fastest-growing categories -- before Raffi came along, there was no kids' music. At least there was no money in it. Raffi made kids' music pay. Big bucks, and big respect.

Twenty years ago, Raffi released his first album, "Singable Songs for the Very Young." The album was a huge hit, and Raffi owned it all. He wrote the songs and put the record out on his own label, Troubadour Records Ltd. The money gave Raffi the freedom to continue in kids' music. He will have 12 albums in print when "BananaPhone" is released.

"It took a person devoted to entertaining children full time to have it taken seriously," says Raffi. Today, kids' music is contested ground, with more former pop stars moving in. Raffi, the reigning king, welcomes all.

"I just hope that people who are making recordings for kids are doing it out of love for children, and not because it makes money," he says. "I would also hope that the more there are, the more respect it brings to the field. There's room for many. Look at children's books. It is certain that you can never have too much in your home."

For many families, there can never be enough Raffi in their homes. His singing style appeals to kids because it's clearly enunciated, doesn't go too fast, has a catchy beat and can be quite funny.

"The child in me is very much alive and dreaming," he laughs.

Despite some childlike qualities in his personality, Raffi takes his adult role seriously.

There are many issues that keep this bearded, doe-eyed man up at night. For example, the environment. He was recently named a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations' Environmental Task Force and regularly speaks before audiences about

curbing environmental abuses.

"I want to contribute to a world where people feel safe in their homes, feel safe walking on the streets and can eat safe food and water," Raffi says.

Despite such heavy topics, Raffi is rarely criticized for overwhelming his young listeners.

"My music is self-esteem based," he says, explaining how his music reaches youngsters. "It's about love of self, love of family, love of country, love of Earth. If you love yourself, you'll love other things. If we love these creatures, then we will want to protect them."

And does Raffi want to reach parents, too? Maybe improve their love of the Earth and themselves?

"I think parents do care about their children's future. So, yeah, I believe my music's message does

reach them. And sometimes it comes through their children, when they come home and say, 'Hey, what are you going to do about the environment?' "



When: Friday at 7 p.m.

Where: Pier Six Pavilion, Inner Harbor

Tickets: $10-15

Call: (410) 625-1400

To hear excerpts of Raffi's "Evergreen Everblue," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6121 after you hear the greeting

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