The Washington Post once called him “the most popular children’s singer in the English-speaking world,” and he was a huge part of many people’s childhoods – especially for Canadians who grew up in the 1980s – but Raffi Cavoukian has spent the last couple of decades or so with a mission that is less about entertaining and more about educating and inspiring.
He continues that mission this weekend when he’ll take the stage of the Tidemark Theatre as the featured speaker at the annual Haig-Brown Lecture, presented by Campbell River Arts Council in partnership the Museum at Campbell River and the Haig-Brown Institute.
What makes a children’s entertainer the right person for a lecture series that is focused on the legacy of conservationist Roderick Haig-Brown?
“I’ve actually been an environmentally aware person for most of my life,” Raffi says. “I think that awareness is in my songs, as well. I’ve been a children’s advocate for decades and when you take that seriously, you also become an advocate for the Earth and for healthy ecosystems, because children depend on them and are even more vulnerable to them than adults.”
Raffi’s lecture will be titled Respecting Earth and Child: Child Honouring and Sustainability, and the following day, he will be performing in his familiar role as a children’s entertainer, also at the Tidemark. He says despite those being two somewhat different hats, they go hand-in-hand.
“It’s fun to still be able to make music these days and I still do children’s concerts all over the place, and then, occasionally, to have the opportunity to speak on our moral duty to do our best by the child. We’ve learned over the years that as the child goes, so goes society.”
Is it difficult to go from the more happy-go-lucky children’s performer singing sometimes goofy songs to discussing serious matters from behind a podium to a theatre full of adults?
Well, when you’ve been a children’s performer for as long as Raffi has, it’s not difficult to get into that mode, he says, “so I expect that will go pretty smoothly, and I’m excited to sing with my Campbell River fans and some old friends – and maybe make some new friends.”
At the heart of both events, Raffi says, is his love of children.
“We all want the best possible world for our children to grow up in and the best possible world for our families to thrive in. The basics of life – clean air, clean water, nutritious food – I think we can talk about those things with a new, fresh sense of our responsibilities to future generations.”
He says the lecture won’t be angry or wistful or preachy, but he hopes it will strike a chord with people nonetheless.
“I would hope it’s inspirational, but there’s also a sense of urgency in it,” he says. “When I give a talk explaining what child honouring is and what its promise is to society if we embrace it, it’s fun, because I’m sharing a relatively new idea and yet it’s an idea that many people in many sectors have echoed the call for.”
Raffi published an anthology in 2006 entitled Child Honouring: How to Turn This World Around, “and many thought leaders, from public health to education to environmental awareness to business echoed the call that we need a child-honouring society,” he says. “In fact, the Dali Llama wrote the forward to that anthology, so I feel buoyed by their support and by their acknowledgement that this is an important idea. How we can create humane and peaceful societies is by tending to the universal and irreducable needs of young children in their formative years.”
Is he confident that this is a thing we’ll be able to do? A social, systemic change of mindset like this one is a lofty goal, after all.
“Well that’s hard to say, isn’t it?” he says. “I’d rather focus on the invitation to do so. I think all of us, at a certain point, can ask deep questions of ourselves. What kind of person am I? What are my values? Am I a peacemaker is a good question to ask of ourselves in this day and age. Am I an oppositional person or am I a person who cares about people even when they disagree with me? Even people who are in conflict with me, I don’t wish them harm.
“Physicians have to take an oath that first, they will do no harm. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all took that oath?”
Raffi will be joined by local award-winning filmmaker Damien Gillis, who will be screening his 20-minute documentary film, Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux.
The film follows an expedition of conservationists, biologists and wilderness explorers through an area in B.C.’s Selkirk Mountains.
In his talk, Gillis will explore the complex relationship between the modern economy and our natural environment.
“How do we, as citizens, as a community, find our way forward without tearing each other apart?” Gillis asks. “It is no easy task; there are no easy answers. But it is a challenge from which we cannot afford to turn our backs. Surely, there are intelligent ways, through improved management and innovation, that we can bring jobs back without sacrificing the few patches of true wilderness we have left. Surely, there is room in our economy for smart, well-regulated development, but there must also be a line beyond which certain places and values are held as sacred. Like a community’s drinking water and wild salmon habitat.”
The annual Haig-Brown Lecture runs from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Tidemark this Friday night (Nov. 3). Tickets are available for $15 at the Tidemark Box Office or online at tidemarktheatre.com