Strains of “Apples and Bananas” and “Down by the Bay” floated through a crammed Sudler Hall on Friday night as hundreds of Yalies gathered to relive a part of their childhoods and “shake their sillies out” during “An Evening with Raffi.”
“I told my mom I was coming to hear Raffi perform, and she started crying,” Andy Shumaker ’10 said. “I was a really big fan of him when I was a kid.”
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Raffi Cavoukian, well-known children’s entertainer, author, environmental activist and Canadian troubadour, visited Yale on Friday for a Silliman College Master’s Tea and an evening concert sponsored by the Yale Students for UNICEF, part of the kickoff to Children’s Week. Raffi performed several of his classic songs but also introduced numbers from his new album “Resisto Dancing: Songs of Compassionate Revolution,” a compilation demonstrating that nowadays, Raffi sings to a different tune.
Raffi’s audience included children of residential college fellows and graduate students — but Raffi encouraged everyone to become grown-up children for the evening.
He opened the event with his signature hip-shaking dance moves and imaginative voices singing his classic “Baby Beluga” song. But he introduced a new verse addressing the “Grown-Up Belugas” or “Beluga Grads” in the audience, which segued Raffi’s conversation into his philosophy of “Child Honouring.” The philosophy suggests that by fostering childhood development, global society can start to fix the greater problems of communities and ecosystems.
In explaining his theory, Raffi said his research on childhood development shows that the first few years of a child’s life shape his entire emotional disposition. By nurturing children in the early years of life, he said, his revolution can develop this “Child Honouring” mentality in society.
“Childhood is cross-cultural, the universal human experience,” he said. “This philosophy connects person, culture and planet because a child lives within all three domains. The child is you and me.”
Some of the songs Raffi introduced from his new album reflect his goal of forging a connection between “person, culture and planet.”
In October, Raffi performed “Cool It” — a tune written in rockabilly style that deals with global warming — for former vice president and environmental activist Al Gore in Vancouver. Another song, “Count With Me,” suggests assessing national progress through a metric other than gross domestic product, Raffi said.
“It’s time we measured quality, the mark of true prosperity,” the lyrics read.
Raffi said his “Child Honouring” philosophy prompted him to write a covenant based on principles for children around the world, reminding people of children’s rights. The covenant was inspired by the Declaration of Independence — although the historical document fails to mention children, he said.
“We find these joys to be self evident: That all children are created whole, endowed with innate intelligence, with dignity and wonder, worthy of respect,” he said, reading his covenant. “The embodiment of life, liberty and happiness, children are original blessings, here to learn their own song.”
Raffi concluded the concert with one of his more recent songs, inspired by a Nelson Mandela quotation about “turning the world around for the children.”
Some students in attendance said they think the event had an underlying political agenda that kept Raffi from playing songs that were most recognizable by the audience.
“I went to the event expecting to hear my favorite childhood songs, like ‘Apples and Bananas,’ and I was really excited when he opened with ‘Baby Beluga,” Genevieve Haverstick ’11 said. “Then he started singing about global warming and politics, so I ended up leaving early. It was so disappointing.”
But other students at the event said they think the issues Raffi addressed through his new music are pertinent to his young fan base.
“Kids should be talked to about real issues,” Bente Grinde ’09 said. “He’s doing some awesome work, and I hope it becomes more accessible to crowds that will readily accept his message.”
Raffi’s appearance kicks off an array of events for Yale Students for UNICEF’s Children’s Week, which will feature discussions of and presentations on the Rwandan genocide, global child-health issues and children’s books, among other events.