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Music for Change

Music for Change

Playing for Change is a multi-media music project, created by the US producer and sound engineer Mark Johnson with his Timeless Media Group, that seeks to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music. Like water that will always find its own course and its own level, the idea is that music can bridge communities around the world. Review by Stephen Williams.

The Playing for Change movement’s self-professed philosophy is aimed at “inspiring, connecting, and bringing peace to the world through music”. And it achieves both the creative and distribution process with the help of ICT technologies. The movement’s first video was a group of over 35 musicians from 10 countries – never meeting in person – who collaborated over the web for this pioneering project.

The third iteration of the Playing for Change series of CD/DVD sets, Songs Around the World, was released in the middle of last month, on 17th June.

The album includes performances from Keith Richards, Sara Bareilles, Los Lobos, Taj Mahal, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Keb’ Mo’. Since the organisation formed in 2005, Playing For Change has formed the PFC Band, which has toured throughout four continents for over 150 performances, and the PFC Foundation.

A portion of the proceeds from the record will benefit this PFC foundation, which has served over 700 children in nine music schools set up in countries including South Africa, Ghana, Mali, and Rwanda.

“Playing for Change, that’s the way music was meant to be,” commented the Rolling Stones superstar guitarist Keith Richards, who has supported the project wholeheartedly.

He provides a creative jam with his own song, ‘Words of Wonder’, that melds into Bob Marley’s reggae classic Get Up, Stand Up, a track that includes contributions from Keb’ Mo’ (a three-time American Grammy Award-winning African-American blues musician), Mermans Mosengo (the Congolese drummer now resident in South Africa), Sherieta Lewis (from Kingston, Jamaica) and Natalie of Blue King Brown (Australia).

Other tracks include ‘What’s Going On’, one of the late, great Marvin Gaye’s best-loved songs – which he recorded during the troubled days of the US in the 1970s, when the country was at war in Vietnam and a heroin epidemic was devastating America’s black community.

The lyrics – as pertinent today as they have ever been –  are sung by Sara Bareilles, Clarence Bekker and Titi Tsira. Titi Tsira, who hails from Gugulethu, a black African township in the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa, and she also collaborates with Keith Richards on ‘Words of Wonder’. Bekker is an artist originally from Suriname in Central America, now resident in the Netherlands.

Reggae stars Toots Hibbert and the Maytals (Toots and the Maytals), are joined by one of Jamaica’s best-loved guitarists, Ernest Ranglin, on the track, ‘Reggae got Soul’, a reworking of the huge mid-1970s hit for Toots and the Maytals.

The America’s also provide other stars for the project, in the main people of colour. For example, the New Orleans street musician, Legend Grandpa Elliott joined forces with that city’s Preservation Hall Jazz Band in a spirited rendition of the old standard ‘Down by the Riverside’.
Sara Bareilles says that the group “elevates the world with music, and inspires me to be a better human”.

Grandpa Elliott, who was one of the starring singers of Playing for Change’s Stand by Me video, has this to say of his performance: “All of my life I’ve been putting out love, but not like that!”

The Playing for Change Foundation (a not-for-profit organisation) has collaborated with Bob Marley’s children’s foundation, 1Love, to create the 1Love Playing For Change Day. This year, that day will fall on the 20th September, when various live performance events around the world will take this collaborative effort forward. 

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Written by Stephen Williams

Stephen Williams is a freelance journalist, based in London. A specialist on Africa, his remit also includes the Middle East and North Africa. Williams currently works for a number of London-based print publications including New African magazine.

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