Editor's note:  Raffi is celebratating 40 years of making music for children with a "Best of Raffi" album release and a national concert tour. In April, he performs in Chicago and Minneapolis, and in May he performs in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He also regularly tours around Canada. Get the latest concert and music release information at www.raffinews.com.  Read our 2014 interview with Raffi, where he discusses music, learning, and his album Love Bug!

Beloved children’s troubadour Raffi has a new album, his first in 12 years. I had the opportunity to chat with Raffi about his new album, how children learn from music and the many ways he hopes children, teachers, and families connect with his new songs. 

Interview By: Susan Friedman

What was your inspiration for Love Bug? Why a new album now after 12 years?

Raffi: Two years ago I returned to the concert stage after an absence of ten years. We called these family sing-along concerts, Beluga Grad concerts (Beluga Grads are the adults who grew up singing my songs). Many Beluga Grads were in the audience with their own children and I started thinking about the differences in childhood now versus then. I felt the impulse to write new songs for this new time.

What is this “new time”?

Raffi: Children today grow up with very rapidly developing digital technology.  It touches all our lives and we don’t really understand all the ways technology and social media impact children. I wanted to create songs that bring children’s attention to things in the real world they might notice. This album is a full on celebration of the real world.

Can you share what you hope children, teachers and families experience when listening to the songs on this album?

Raffi: Apart from the whimsy and laughter (I do get to bark like a dog here and there and I really enjoy that!) there are songs like “Cool Down Reggae” and “Water in the Well” which are all about taking a deep breath in the course of a day.  Everything that we do online is happening at such a fast speed.  With a song like “Wind Chimes” children can just listen to the sound of the wind.  I’m creating a picture of how our world actually flows in real time with real world rhythms rather than the hyper-rhythms of the cyber world. It’s another opportunity to just take a deep breath and just enjoy the moment.

Listeners will hear mindfulness meditation implicit in some of these songs and at the same time this collection of songs is also at times very toe-tapping and robust. I see it as an album of breath and depth, and fun for the family on a number of levels. And I think there is much there for educators; there are plenty of opportunities to engage children in social and emotional learning.

What are some of the ways teachers can support children’s social and emotional learning with these songs?

Raffi: Songs can be a vehicle for both learning about the world inside and outside of us.“Free to Play” is a song that I think will resonate with both kids and teachers. Children will enjoy hearing about things they recognize and play with (for example there’s a reference to finger puppets.)  There are many opportunities to ask the children open-ended questions and explore the songs.

In relation to the song, “Love Bug”, I think these questions help children understand and explore their own feelings.  When children think about their own answers to “What do you think this song Love Bug is about?”  “How does it make you feel?” “ Might you draw your own love bug? “What would your love bug look like?” They think about their own feelings and about their connections to others.

There’s another interesting song called “Seeing the Heart” which also offers ideas for children to explore their own feelings and their connections to others in their lives.  A mother and son I know inspired this song. The mother drew the shape of a human heart quite realistically and then her 10-year-old son saw his mother’s  drawing and on his own, without prodding, labeled the different parts of the heart with the most amazing words like “pump of flowing happiness”, “hate outtake valve”, “ridge of foresight”.

The boy titled his version of the drawing,  “The Mind’s Way of Seeing the Heart”, and it’s the inspiration for the title of my song, “Seeing the Heart.” The song celebrates the mother and son connection that yielded this.  I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for teachers to delve deeply into this heart metaphor—how it strikes us, how it stirs us, how it might stir a child, how we’re connected, what we feel inside and about each other.

Anything else you’d like to add?

From the early excitement about the title song, I feel like a proud new papa with this album. I can’t wait until mid-July just to see how families, children and parents and teachers as well, will respond to these new songs.

Raffi is a songwriter and performer. Learn more about Raffi, his philosophy of child honoring, and his book LightWeb DarkWeb. And be sure to check out Love Bug, available now!

Susan Friedman is the Executive Editor of Digital Content at NAEYC