Although Raffi Cavoukian is famously known for his work as a children’s performer, the Order of Canada winner has also dedicated a large percentage of his time advocating for a society in which young children can thrive.
“How young children fare is how society fares,” Raffi said. “The early part of life is the formative part of life. That’s when we are forming our sense of what it feels like to be human. That is when our brain is growing.
“Our first impressions of life need to be positive and affirming.”
In 2010, Raffi formed the Centre for Child Honouring, a non-profit charity that is based out of Salt Spring Island. Raffi’s organization strives to promote the concept of child honouring throughout local and international communities.
“The young child of every culture is a universal human. We are all alike when we are babies and infants. It doesn’t matter what our skin colour is or our racial origin is, or what economic standing our family is in, every baby and infant is the same biological creature and that’s the positive message of the Centre for Child Honouring,” Raffi said.
Raffi explained that social media has had a profound impact on parenting and that parents now need to be concerned about their kids’ behaviour online and offline.
“In the social media and virtual world that surrounds family life now, parents for the first time have not only take care of their kids’ well-being in the real world but they also have to be concerned about their kids’ behaviour and well-being online,” he said.
In 2012, Raffi released a book titled Lightweb Darkweb, which was inspired by Vancouver teenager Amanda Todd, who committed suicide after enduring years of harassment online.
“The book stresses the need for social media reform so that young users can be safe online, which they’re not now,” he said. “If you think about it, Amanda’s tormentor has still not been identified.”
The children’s entertainer questions whether the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission should begin to regulate social media.
“Why doesn’t it regulate social media?” Raffi said. “I don’t pretend to have answers for these questions but I think in posing the right questions we can work together to the right answers. I think some reasonable regulations of online behaviour is going to be needed.”
Raffi also wrote an open letter to Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, asking her to make Facebook a leader in protecting children online. Raffi said he still has yet to hear from Facebook or Sandberg since writing the letter in 2012.
“It’s the social media companies themselves who are billion-dollar companies that should make their service safe for the user. I don’t think that is too much ask of a billion-dollar company,” Raffi said.
Raffi became involved with music at an early age and often sang in his church’s choir. He said his father, who was a respected photographer, got him into music.
“Besides being a great visual artist, he was also a tremendous musician, both singer and accordionist. He played a number of instruments,” Raffi said.
When Raffi reached his teens, he was influenced by the sounds of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot.
“They all really moved me with their songs so I wanted to be a singer/songwriter,” Raffi said.
After spending time as a folk artist, he eventually transitioned into a children’s performer. In 1976, he released his first children’s album, Singable Songs for the Very Young.
“Once I understood the importance of making music for kids, I dedicated my life to that,” Raffi said.
He said that the transition from being a folk singer to a children’s singer was a natural progression for him and was something that he embraced.
“I was learning from educators at the time that music was, and of course still is, a very important thing for kids. Songs that they can make their own, songs that give them joy and allow them to express various emotions. It’s a good thing to grow up singing and I took it as important work,” he said.
In 1983, Raffi was named to the Order of Canada.
“It’s humbling because you feel grateful to be acknowledged. It gives you a sense of further service to the country through your work,” he said.
Raffi’s sister, Ann Cavoukian, is currently Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner. His elder brother, Onnig Cavoukian, is a highly regarded portrait photographer whose past subjects include Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Raffi performs at the Port Theatre this Saturday (Jan. 19). For more information, please visit www.porttheatre.com.