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Raffi is an Armenian-Canadian singer-songwriter, author, essayist and lecturer. He has developed his career as a "global troubadour", to become a music producer, author, entrepreneur, and founder of the Centre for Child Honouring, a vision for global restoration.
Born in Cairo, Egypt, to Armenian parents, he spent his early years in Egypt before emigrating with his family to Canada in 1958, eventually settling in Toronto, Ontario. His mother named him after the Armenian poet Raffi. His father Arto Cavoukian was a well-known portrait photographer with a studio on Bloor Street in Toronto. His older brother Onnig Cavoukian, known as "Cavouk," is also a famous portrait photographer. His younger sister is Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner.
In the early 1970s, Raffi frequented a guitar store near Yonge and Wellesley called Millwheel, where he met other developing Canadian musicians such as David Wilcox and John Lacey. Raffi ran a coffee house at the University of Toronto up until 1980. He befriended John Lacey, a folk guitarist from Oakville, Ontario, who helped Raffi improve his finger picking (John went on to become a steel guitar player). Raffi continued playing folk guitar in various coffee houses in Toronto and Montreal before hitchhiking to Vancouver in 1972 to find "fame and fortune." He returned to Toronto after a few years and was invited to sing for a Toronto public school. Despite his own hesitations about singing for kids, he was an immediate success and thus began his career entertaining children. He moved to Mayne Island near Victoria, British Columbia, in 1989. Raffi started his own fund, and now is an environmentalist as well as a musician.
Raffi is well loved by the children of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s for his popular children's songs. His autobiography, The Life of a Children's Troubadour, documents the first part of his award-winning career. Some of Raffi's best-known children's songs are "Bananaphone", "Baby Beluga", and "Down by the Bay."
Most of Raffi's children's albums include small, simple, folk instrumentations, prominently featuring Raffi's vocal and guitar work. Early works included contributions from Toronto-area folk musicians, including Ken Whiteley and Bruce Cockburn. Raffi also incorporated many world music sounds into his records. Raffi preferred to play in small intimate settings. In his autobiography, he notes that he turned down a very lucrative offer to perform a concert at Madison Square Garden, because he thought the venue was too large for him to connect to children.
He also wrote that early in his career, he found it difficult to perform for younger kids (under 3 years old) because their short attention span was distracting to him and to the rest of the audience. This led to a hiatus from children's performing in the mid 1980s.
Raffi is currently the president of Troubadour Music Inc., a triple-bottom-line company he founded to produce and promote his work according to his ethical standards.