Interview: Raffi and His New CD “Love Bug”

Posted on July 14, 2014 at 8:00 am

love bug raffiRaffi has a new CD! His first new music in twelve years is called Love Bug and it will be available tomorrow.

It was a special thrill to talk to someone whose music has been so important to our family.  Many car trips were more memorable than the ultimate destinations because we all sang along to “Baby Beluga,” “Down By the Bay,” and dozens more of his “singable songs.”  And I am so grateful for his integrity as a performer, declining offers to sing in enormous arenas because he always wanted his young fans to be able to feel connected to him in a way that is impossible in those venues, and refusing all kinds of lucrative endorsements because he did not want to exploit his relationship with the children who loved his music.

Raffi has devoted himself to protecting children through initiatives like Child Honouring, a program that calls on all adults to commit to a world where all children are entitled to love, to dream, and to belong to a loving “village” — and to pursue a life of purpose.

You really recorded Love Bug in your living room?

Yes! In fact, 80 percent of it was recorded in my living room on the west coast. So you might say that my beautiful view of forest and water and islands and the mountains in the background was the backdrop that inspired the music and even helped get it to sound right. The title song Love Bug that was entirely recorded in my living room and for the first time, on a title song of mine, on a kids’ album I played piano as well as guitar. So that was fun.

The audio was excellent and that’s why I recorded there. I have a wood floor and I have sliding glass doors, and also a stone fireplace. So the combination of wood and glass and stone is excellent especially with the angles from this sort of vaulted ceiling.  All of that combined to give me sweet spots. And that’s what I learned, it’s to record where it sounds good rather than go to a sterile studio space and then make it sound good afterwards and add all kinds of effects of sorts.

Who else is on the CD?

Most of the musicians were people I knew either in my community or in Vancouver. But this time around my niece, Kristen Cavoukian, she sang on This Land is Your Land.  Her husband Ivan Rosenberg is a wonderful Dobro player and he plays other instruments as well. He played Dobro on the song Water In the Well and he played banjo on Pete’s Banjo. I also had young voices from the island where I live. My island is called Salt Spring Island and it’s a beautiful place.

As it happened on the Love Bug song, the two kids who sing on it, their names are Julia and Gabrielle Love. Can you believe it? Their last name is Love!  And their mother Karen Love sings beautifully on the song Magic Wand. So there are many stories around this album, in how it came into being.

I know you are concerned about children spending too much time indoors with electronic devices. Why is it important to get them back outside?

Richard Louv wrote a book about about that called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. The way I approach this question is that it is the work of newborn babies and infants to bond with not only their caregivers but also the real world that births them into being. The wondrous three-dimensional world of wonders, the place where they explore and touch and feel the elements, the place that gives them other seasons, the flow of a long summer, an unhurried childhood. These are the makings of a person who is filled with wonder, who has her or his imagining capabilities strongly intact. This is the person who is going to do well in life. Not the person who is introduced to infotech early with the misguided idea that it will give them a leg up on that form of communication. That is nonsense actually because infotech is going to change. Five years from now it’s going to be different from what is now. And as I like to remind people, I began to do email when I was 50. Doesn’t hurt me any… I started being on Twitter when I was 62. Wasn’t hard to catch up.

It’s just complete nonsense to suggest that we need to start kids early on infotech. The opposite is true; it is our duty to make sure that children have the kind of play that lets them explore as I said the three dimensions of the real world and also let them have moments of boredom from which a great creativity can spring.

Why do you think boredom is so important?

Well maybe the parents have grown up with too much screen time themselves. And by screen time we used to means television.  Now it could also mean other visual screens such as computer game screens, and laptops and the rest of the shiny tech as I call it in my book Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us. Sherry Turkle at MIT made a very good point. If you don’t teach children how to be alone, how to relish solitude, you deprive them of a wonderful gift and they will grow up being lonely because the present moment will never feel good enough unless it’s hyped up.

And you’ve got adults taking workshops, just to learn how to be. Think about that…Just to enjoy this cup of tea, just to enjoy this moment’s gentle breeze as it comes in. I mean, these are the basics to life; these are the riches that we all share.

I love the way that you have titled the book Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us because you’re not trying to say that technology is all bad that we should be haunted by it or terrified of it. You are very balanced in talking about the good and bad. Particularly in the music business, since your last album, hasn’t social media really transformed the way that music is marketed?

As I was saying earlier, it’s the lightweb technology, the digital technology that allows me to record in my living room. What we used to call the recording console was this huge, 6 foot wide, complex piece of machinery. It was like a car. Well, that thing now is in the laptop, and there is a little connector box and my engineer brings very fine microphones, the ones in fact that are in recording studios, he brings them over, the microphones are connected to the little box, the box connects to the laptop and on the laptop has a professional recording software program, away we go, and visual editing is easy. I’ve mentioned all this in the book. In fact I start the book by saying, as a tech enthusiast and troubadours… So I put my tech enthusiast label on right away so that people can see I’m critiquing infotech from that vantage point.

Since my last album 2002, twelve years, we’ve had social media come on the scene and so you could say that Love Bug is the first Raffi CD of the digital era. And I think that’s important because of how social media has changed parenting and how it has changed childhood. And in brief parents now raise children in two different worlds, the real world and the virtual. By that I mean they have to be constantly supervising what their kids are doing in the virtual world. How they’re relating to these shiny tech devices.

I’m asked this question a lot now. People say, “How have children changed with the world changing around them?” And I say well, children in their basic need, young children I’ m talking about because they seem to be my primary audience, young children’s needs don’t change.

As many child development experts such as Berry Brazelton and others have taught us, children’s needs are irreducible and universal. Those needs don’t change. What changes is the world around them and I think that’s where parents, teachers and policymakers and social critics such as ourselves have a duty to remind people that the culture that we create around children must be child honoring, it must respect their innate capabilities, their innate imagining abilities, there innate need for play, it must not overwhelm the young psyche. I quote Columbia University’s expert of technology, Neil Postman.  He is the one who helped me understand the importance of this quote: he said it’s not ‘what’ they watch but ‘that’ they watch.  In those early years less is more because it’s the emotional intelligence which is by the way one of the nine child honoring principles, its emotional intelligence. That’s the work of the early years.

Did your family love music?

I certainly grew up with it in my family. It was probably because my father was an expert musician.  He played a number of instruments including accordion, which is where I got my love for that instrument. I actually love accordions. But he also sang in the Armenian Church choir, and I sang on that choir with him. That’s before in my newly found home in Canada because I grew up in Cairo, Egypt but we migrated when I was 10 years old. In Toronto when I was growing up as a teen, I certainly heard the music of the Beatles and also Motown. And I also had the terrific inspiration of Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and these people, these great early musicians.

I saw that Pete Seeger was an inspiration for this album. Do you have a favorite Pete Seeger song?

Probably “If I Had a Hammer,” which I actually sang recently.  I might record “If I Had a Hammer” and have it be the bonus song on my next CD. Bonus songs are kind of like saying, “Okay, this is the album I did but here is one more song that may or may not belong to this album but here it is, to give it some creative latitude.” I feel like the baton has been passed on to many of us who sing and love sing-along.

Tell me about the young woman that your book is dedicated to.

Lightweb Darkweb is dedicated to Amanda Todd who at the age of fifteen in Vancouver took her life after two or three years of sexual extortion by an online predator. And this is a tragic death that actually could have been averted had the RCMP acted quickly to have smoked out the perpetrator because they know how to do that. In a similar case in Ontario the RCMP intervened quickly and the boy’s life was saved. But the stronger point here perhaps also is the group called the Red Hood Project citizen’s group to urge for corporate social responsibility by the billion dollar social media platform such as Facebook. When we co-wrote an open letter to Facebook’s CEO, Sheryl Sandberg including, signatories including Carol Todd, Amanda’s mother, there was silence. Not a response, not one. And I think that’s tragic because I think the business model of billion dollar corporations that care more about profits than the people their services affect, there’s something wrong with that picture.

You have said that with this album you also honored another recently passed hero, Nelson Mandela. How did his inspiration touch you?

How can I talk about Mandela? The wonderful thing about those who inspire us deeply is that they live on forever. And Mandela’s courage, after 26 years of being imprisoned, and his nobility in that the way he conducted himself, his captors felt like they were the ones in captivity. You have to kneel at the foot of that man. So anyway I was inspired by his words in the year 2000 when he said, empty rhetoric is not enough he said we must turn this world around for the children. I thought that would make a great song and I wrote a song and I recorded it. Got to sing it for him in Toronto in 2001 at Ryerson University and that was an unforgettable event. When I was finished singing the song he stood up and actually shook my hand and it’s something I’ll never forget.


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MVP of the Week: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Posted on October 20, 2013 at 8:00 am

I have been a huge fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor since I first saw him in the 2004 film Dirty Pretty Things. “12 Years a Slave” may be his breakthrough performance, and I hope it encourages audiences to seek out some of his previous work in films as widely varied as Denzel Washington’s sidekick in Spike Lee’s Inside Man, a sci-fi villain in Serenity, a romantic pianist in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda, and a drag queen in Kinky Boots.

He also plays a musician in “Dancing on the Edge,” a miniseries premiering this week on Starz.



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Breakthrough Star: Anna Kendrick

Posted on September 26, 2012 at 8:00 am

Anna Kendrick has been one of my favorite performers since I first saw her as a child belting out “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” in My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies. She provided the voice of the title character’s older sister in this summer’s ParaNorman and this month appears in two very different roles as the wife of Jake Gyllenhaal in the brutal, gritty cop drama “End of Watch” (they have a great wedding dance scene) and as a reluctant a capella choir member in “Pitch Perfect,” her first lead role.  She is also extremely friendly and accessible and a great interview, as I found out this summer.

She is best known for her Oscar-nominated role in Up in the Air.  But if you have not seen her in these films, take a look — you are in for a treat.

Camp A sort of “All About Eve” set at a summer camp for would-be musical theater kids, Kendrick plays a determined young performer who first acts as acolyte and then competitor for the camp’s Queen Bee.  It is supposed to be funny, even ludicrous, when she performs “Ladies Who Lunch,” a biting and sophisticated song written for an aging lush, but she nails it.

The Twilight Saga Kendrick appears as a friend of Bella’s in this blockbuster series. She does not have a lot of screen time, but she makes it memorable.

Rocket Science Kendrick is simply stunning in this under-seen gem, a semi-autobiographical story about a high school boy who stutters but becomes a competitive debater. Kendrick’s role as his rather Machiavelian mentor requires a lot of very precisely delivered rat-a-tat dialog and she is mesmerizingly brilliant.

50/50 Please don’t call this “the cancer movie.”  Yes, it is based on the true story of a young man who got cancer and was given a 50/50 chance of survival.  But he lived to write the story, so you know it’s going to be okay.  And it is co-produced by co-star Seth Rogan, so you know it will be funny.  Kendrick gives another, well, pitch-perfect performance as a just-certified psychologist who tries to maintain some professional distance as she works with the cancer patient.

Coming soon: she plays an FBI agent in “The Company You Keep,” co-starring writer/director Robert Redford, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Chris Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Brit Marling, and the little girl with the voice of an angel, Jackie Evancho.  Can’t wait.

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Breakthrough Performer: Chris Messina

Posted on July 11, 2012 at 8:00 am

Two of the most intriguing independent films of the summer were written by the actresses who star in them, and both movies feature an actor I’ve admired for a while, Chris Messina.  in “Ruby Sparks,” he plays the brother of lead Paul Dano and in “Celeste and Jesse Forever” he plays a possible new love interest for the lead character played by co-screenwriter Rashida Jones.  Messina is perhaps most familiar from his role as the husband of the Amy Adams character in Julie & Julia and he also appeared on the Glenn Close television series, “Damages” as a traumatized employee of a government contractor working in Afghanistan.  He has a featured role in the new HBO series from Aaron Sorkin, “Newsroom,” as a network executive.  He is an actor of exceptional range and appeal.

I’ve been a fan of Messina’s since the underrated gem, Ira & Abby.

And I’m looking forward to seeing “The Giant Mechanical Man,” which was featured at Tribeca, and whatever else he has in the pipeline.

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Interview: Lily Collins of “Mirror Mirror”

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 8:01 am

Lily Collins was so gracious I felt I really was talking to a fairy tale princess.  The daughter of rocker Phil Collins appeared in “The Blind Side” and this joyous, gorgeously re-imagined updating of “Snow White” is her first starring role.  She talked to me about learning how to sword-fight and her favorite advice about acting.


We have to talk about the swan dress.

I know, the head and the wings were just the most beautiful little accompaniment to the outfit…I would forget, though, that I had them both on, and I would go to squeeze by people and forget that my span was much longer and I would sometimes knock things over with them, but they were so beautiful and intricately made, so delicate and absolutely like pieces of art, they were an honor to wear.

How does it make you feel different to look at yourself fin the mirror and see that? 

Well, it definitely helps get into character when you’re wearing a corset everyday, you truly do feel like the character, it makes all the difference in the world. But also, they were so emblematic of who Snow was—and in the tone of the movie it just amped up the feeling of the film..

The sword fights are amazing!  Tell me what kind of training you did and what that was like.

Armie Hammer and I trained including during the filming for about four months.  It was very intense, lots of sweating and bruises, but it was so much fun and I had never imagined that I would get to do something like that before.

This is the first time we’ve seen him in a comic role.

He’s hilarious! He’s kind of the perfect mixture of being goofy and aloof in the role, as well as being a gentleman, totally regal, and very, very humble. Armie is, as a person as well, just kind of great mixture of all these different attributes. Most of all, I didn’t realize how much of a jokester and how funny he is, he can make you laugh at the top of the hat.

What was the biggest challenge of filming for you?

I’d never done a film a big as this before, or worked as many hours as I did—and I think it was just making sure I maintained that balance of work and being able to rest and take care of myself, because I did do so many different new things on this film, and I was in a foreign place and on my own there, and it was really just making sure I kept a defined balance between having my time to be myself as well as the character.

This is a very different version of Snow White than we’ve seen before, and not just different in the plotline, but a very different version of the characters. So if her name was Snow Jones, who is she and how did you imagine her?

I really wanted to play her, not as a caricature of a fairy tale princess or as an animated character; I wanted to make her a real girl who was feisty, and who really was passionate, and learned throughout the process that she went through with the dwarfs and experiencing new things, she learned to believe in herself and found that it was what was inside her that made her able to conquer her dreams and go after what she believed in. Never once does she look in the mirror herself, because she’s never aware of what her beauty means, or that she is even as beautiful as everyone says she is. It was really what she found within herself through her new friends and experiences. So, I think she was someone who was very open to spontaneity and life and love, and someone who wasn’t afraid to get a little dirty at times, to go and fight, be on par with the prince and not allow the fact that she was a girl change anything.

I was very touched by the scene near the beginning where you leave the palace for the first time.. The look on your face was so radiant and luminous, and you became aware for the first time what was out there. Tell me a little bit about your process, what was it that you were thinking and how did you achieve that?

I try to put myself in the shoes of whatever character I’m playing and I guess I just imagine the idea of really what it would be like if I was locked away and not allowed to go out and really had the courage to step outside my comfort zone, and experience what was outside of the castle.  I thought about the idea of meeting a man for the first time and how it kind of made me feel something other than what I was used to, and the idea of being shocked at the reality of a situation, not really knowing was evil was, because Snow was kept away so long that she doesn’t really see what evil is.  So when she goes through the village for the first time, she’s so genuinely hurt by it that she can’t help but show her sadness and kind of the inner-child quality of pure disappointment and confusion. So, I try to just put myself in the character’s shoes, and because it’s the beginning of the story, she’s still very much a child in that sense, seeing everything for the first time. I think of how a child would react—children react in such a genuine way and they don’t think, really, how their reactions are going to affect people, they just let it come out; that’s how she was at the beginning.

What was the best advice that you got about acting?

To remember that you are playing someone other than yourself, and so when taking on a role, of course, it’s you taking on a role, so you’re going to add a bit of yourself, but it’s okay to separate your own beliefs and your own characteristics from this character, because that’s what acting is—you’re taking on another role. If you’re going to go for it, go for it, and dedicate yourself 100% to something, because if you’re fully in a character and you go for it, there’s nothing like feeling that feeling of accomplishing, something as someone else, if you’re really going to be a part of the story and be a different character, you should put your whole heart and soul into it, because once you’re dedicated to it, it really comes across.


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