Thursday, March 19, 2009

how raffi brought whale love back into my life

i've worked in seven newsrooms as a journalist and they are the most delightfully cynical places you will ever find, with reporters, photogs and editors cracking the most ridiculously offensive jokes about murder, violence and disease. but to borrow from a writer whose name i can't remember, every cynic is a broken-hearted romantic. cynicism isn't callousness - it's what happens to someone who believes the world can be better, and it's the pain of seeing it degraded that brews the snarky comments.

anyway, the cynicism vanished like fog under a noon sun at metro today when word got out that raffi was in town - and coming to our office! i spent most of the day googling up on the man who gave us baby beluga, suddenly finding myself five years old and in the back of the family car on vacation in the process.

raffi is warm, friendly and as in love with life as ever. a dalhousie pr woman was accompanying him around town and when we started the interview, he said the environmental movement has to be framed in terms of children, the most valuable and vulnerable members of our society. he then spoke to the pr woman, tara, and used the names of her children, wyatt and lilly. it was a nice touch from a thoughtful man who had clearly listened to her. she was impressed.

it was a very busy interview room, as the editor, publisher and most of the reporting and advertising staff either popped in or walked by. i've published a long version of the metro article below, because raffi is worth more than 300 words, and because he sang to me. he started with a new verse of baby beluga and then he sang from a new song, called SustainAbility. i will post them as soon as i can master the technology.

By Jon Tattrie
For Metro Halifax
Raffi Cavoukian may be best known for his children’s music, but the entertainer and environmentalist is now pointing his guitar at adults.
“It’s adults’ responsibility to create a world fit for children. It’s not a young child’s job. Your kids’ job is play,” Raffi said yesterday. “Play is the mode through which they learn. They’re busy doing what they need to do. We, adults, have the responsibility to create a world that provides and supports their reasonable right to breathe, to clean, nutritious food, to clean water.”
He says children are the “missing link” in sustainable ecology and that the infant body should be used at the barometer for policy. If it hurts a baby, we should think long and hard about pumping toxins into the air or digging oil out of the Earth.
The “global troubadour” who brought us Baby Beluga was in Halifax yesterday to join a panel discussion on ecological sustainability at Dalhousie University. He stopped by Metro’s office to talk about his vision of “child honouring” as key to creating an environmentally friendly way of life.
“Children are the most vulnerable in society. They are most impressionable to family dynamics, most susceptible to cultural values and most vulnerable to environmental conditions. Their small bodies ingest far more of foods and liquids per pound then our adult bodies do,” he said. “As long as people think ecology is about air, water and soil, not much action is going to happen. When you put it that way, it gives it flesh: we now see it in our young ones. It’s the most potent thing we can do in terms of sustainability: think of someone you love and think of it as love for generations.”
Raffi links global warming to advertising to children. He notes that 40 per cent of purchases are from the “nag factor” and that $17 billion is spent annually in the U.S. alone advertising to children.
“Right from birth, they are being logo-branded,” he said, expressing amazement and anger that this is legal. “They’re not old enough to understand what you are selling them. Isn’t that morally repugnant?”
Apart from the “moral and spiritual violation of the child’s spirit, you’re creating a condition where the shopping impulse is there at an early age.”
Countering that is key to reclaiming a greener world when the children become the adults, he said. He asked readers to check out the Covenant for Honouring Children at his website,, where you can download music from Resisto Dancing, his current CD.
To reduce consumption, you want to teach children to be Earth stewards, not Earth consumers. “If you want improve just about every aspect of life in our society, look to the early years.”

Baby Beluga
Raffi said his early hit, Baby Beluga, is a love song to a whale he saw in a B.C. zoo. The whale was freed and resumed its life in the wild.
“The song’s about being true to who you are,” he explained. “Swimming wild and free” is about being truly yourself and not a branded, merchandized consumer. “It’s all about the power and the glory of being you. As a child, if you feel your personhood respected for who you feel you are – not as this possession … then something glorious happens.”
His latest album, Resisto Dancing, has a surprisingly modern, hi-hop feel to it, but he denies it is political. “Is it political to want to breath clean air? To eat good food? To have a viable future? I think these are deeply human, spiritual themes.”
After 13 albums for kids, Resisto is for the “Beluga Grads” who grew up on Raffi but are now adults. The title merges ideas from a suffragette and a psychologist.
Suffragette Emma Goldman famously said, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution,” while psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “Healthy individuation requires resisting unhealthy enculturation.” Resisto Dancing is “the spirit of living a life of creative, non-violent passion. Our greatest heroes have been resisto dancers: Martin Luther King, Ghandi, all those folks, they were a shining beacon of light in the unhealthy enculturation of the times,” he said.
“As a song writer, I think it helps me to take complicated ideas and put them into brief phrases. You can talk about sustainability as ‘intergenerational equity’ all you like, but if you says it’s ‘love for generations,’ suddenly, ‘Oh, right! Got it.’ The point is to move people to act, to feel something in their hearts.”
He was set to unveil a new song, SustainABILITY at the talk Thursday night, but gave Metro a sneak sampling. “It’s a dancing tutorial that outlines a broader sense of what we mean by sustainability. It’s got a reggae-esque beat you can dance to – the moment you hear it, you want to move – it’s got a chorus that stays with you. I think it will surprise people.”


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