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Bill Moyers called it a remarkable example of “the simple yet transformative power of music...to touch something in each of us.” Variety acknowledged it as “a great showcase for just what incredible, thoroughly accessible popular music is being made worldwide.” PLAYING FOR CHANGE (playingforchange.com) is an extraordinary effort to unite musicians and vocalists from diverse parts of the globe, while at the same time seeking to immerse audiences in a multimedia movement to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music.
Utilizing innovative mobile audio/video techniques, Playing for Change (PFC) records musicians outdoors in cities and townships worldwide. They’ve travelled from post-Katrina New Orleans to post-apartheid South Africa, from the remote beauty of the Himalayas to the religious diversity of Jerusalem. Their talents are captured in myriad environments: under the sun and beneath the streetlights...in public parks, plazas and promenades...in doorways, on cobblestone streets, amid hilly pueblos. Their performances are subsequently combined in allowing them to collaborate – albeit separated by hundreds, or even thousands, of miles.
Playing for Change began a decade ago, the brainchild of Grammy-winning music producer and engineer Mark Johnson. “I was in a subway in New York on my way to work, and I heard these two monks playing music,” he recalls. “They were painted head to toe, all white, wearing robes. One was playing a nylon guitar, and the other was singing in a language I didn’t understand. There were about 200 people who stopped to watch, didn’t even get on the train. Some had tears in their eyes. And it occurred to me that here is a group of people that would normally run by each other, but instead they’re coming together. And it’s the music that brought them together.”
For ten years Johnson and his team traveled the globe, with a single-minded passion to record little-known musicians for what would become Playing for Change – its name evoking the coins thrown to street musicians as well as the transformation their music inspires. They went to New Orleans shortly after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. “The city felt sad and desolate, yet the music never stopped,” says Johnson. “The street musicians and music in the clubs kept the city alive and gave it a sense of hope.” When they visited South Africa and witnessed its growing pains in the aftermath of apartheid, “we saw that people marching down streets singing in groups of thousands did more to effect positive change than any weapons ever could.”
“The act of playing music with people of different cultures, religions, economics and politics is a powerful statement. It shows that we can find ways of working together and sharing our experiences with one another in a positive way. Music has the power to break down the walls between cultures, to raise the level of human understanding.” — Mark Johnson, founder, Playing for Change