One world, one voice, one day
MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason
• Without fail, the Playing For Change website makes me feel good. Most often it gives me goose bumps, but it’s always (in all ways) a joyful, uplifting experience. There’s no better time to feel this yourself than on September 24 when a global community gathers and unites – through the power of music to affect positive change – on stages, street corners, in schools, yoga studios, cafes and living rooms. More than 300 events in 50 countries are listed at www.playingforchange.com
I’m not alone in praising Playing for Change (PFC). After taping a segment of his Words of Wonder, combined with Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up, Keith Richards said, “That’s the way music was meant to be.” Jackson Browne produced a PFC arrangement of Guantanamera, featuring more than 75 Cuban musicians in Havana, Barcelona and Tokyo, describing it as “one of the most rewarding and inspiring musical experiences of my life.” And Sara Bareilles reports that singing with the PFC Band “elevates the world with music and inspires me to be a better human.”
Warning! The videos at www.playingforchange.com can be addictive. It’s some of the best feel-good music ever with unprecedented collaborations between previously anonymous street musicians, the classically trained and big names such as Bono, Keb’ Mo’, Jimmy Buffett, David Crosby, members of Los Lobos and the Grateful Dead and even John Lennon on tape, with Yoko Ono’s blessing, launching a Power to the People campaign. Music IS the power.
Mark Johnson is the creator of the global PFC phenomena and the driving force behind what is now a worldwide, multimedia, online music project and foundation. He says, “It is easy to connect to the world through music. Religion, politics, a lot of those things, they seem to divide everybody.” When Bill Moyers asked if he was being naïve, Johnson responded, “To me, naive is thinking that there’s any other choice. The only choice we have is to come together. And to inspire each other because that’s the way we’ll create a better world now and for kids tomorrow.”
His own inspiration for a big idea – to connect the world through unfiltered music – was birthed on a New York subway platform when the Grammy-winning producer/engineer/filmmaker watched two monks singing in a language he didn’t understand. “There were about 200 people who didn’t get on the train… people with tears in their eyes and jaws dropping, people who would normally run by each other.”
Some time later, on his way to work at a Santa Monica studio, an “epiphany” inspired Johnson to record street blues musician Roger Ridley singing Stand by Me. He played the result through headphones for Grandpa Elliott, who has “been putting love out there for 60 years” from the streets of New Orleans. Subsequently, utilizing innovative mobile technology and travelling the world, Johnson videotaped more than 100 musicians – mostly outdoors in parks, plazas, promenades, in doorways, on cobblestone streets and hillside pueblos. Each captured performance of the same song created a new mix in which the artists performed together – although hundreds or thousands of miles apart – in a seamless, mesmerizing collaboration and viral global jam.
Johnson has since produced two award-winning documentaries, A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians (2004) and Peace Through Music (2008), and much more music. He notes that PFC videos now have more than 300 million views from 195 countries.
Among myriad locations, Johnson shares that the South African township of Gugeletu was “the saddest place, with so much despair, until women and children joined in singing Celebration.” It was, he says, “one of the most powerful things I had ever seen, from sad to happy, when all that had changed was music.” That barren backyard became the site for a first PFC school. A Playing for Change band was formed to tour the world and help raise funds for what is now 12 school programs – in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Thailand, and growing exponentially.
Each project also helps meet essential needs, including food, clean water, medicine, clothes, books, school supplies, solar energy, computers, and other technology. Johnson says, “It’s never ending, more songs to record, more musicians to connect, always more schools to build.”
As you explore the videos on the PFC site, you may notice two with a regional connection. Music Is My Ammunition opens on a Vancouver beach with three musicians – two from the Congo, one from Italy – before moving on to Jamaica, Hollywood, Cuba, Tokyo and Italy. Don’t Worry was recorded live at the Commodore Ballroom.
Playing for Change Day is held on the Saturday closest to International Peace Day. Everything you need to know to stage an event is also on the PFC website. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any plans and projects. And tune into Common Ground. Happy Playing for Change Day!
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.
Playing for Change Day in Vancouver
Project Blue Hands Society & Friends (www.projectbluehands.org) invites you to celebrate Playing For Change Day in Vancouver. Music, art & outreach for the people, Victory Square Park, 200 W. Hastings St., 11AM-4PM. To get involved, email email@example.com or call (778) 233-5874.