Tag Archives: Playing for Change

Music Review: Various Artists – Playing for Change: Songs Around the World

We all know music conveys emotions and feelings that words alone cannot adequately convey. We also all know when used this way music can be a very powerful inspirational tool. Unfortunately, in light of recent developments in the music industry, where sales seem to be granted more importance than quality, music has become more of an enjoyment and nothing more.

How many songs from Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls or from Lady Gaga are inspirational, rather than catchy?

When I first heard about Playing for Change, the cynical little elf in me scoffed; it was convinced that perhaps this was yet another ploy to get my money by pandering to the good person in me who wants to help (and yes, there is a good person, somewhere in here…).

The first thing you see when you open the packaging is the following quote: “As a human race we come together for birth, we come together for death. What brings us together in between is up to us. Stop and listen to the universal language of music and bring that positive energy with you everywhere you go.” The quote is surrounded by pictures of musicians, singers, audiences, music recording and photography gear, every one beaming and happy. Again, the little elf scoffs: “What good marketing!”

But after I press play, he becomes more hesitant. From the first words spoken and the first notes played, the CD is engaging. The quality of the sound is crystalline; the melody is seamless and flowing, with a mostly upbeat rhythm throughout most of the CD. The first song is a remake of “Stand by Me;” the second is a remake of “One Love,” but the third is an original called “War/No More Trouble” (which quickly becomes my favorite, and not just because it features Bono’s distinctive voice).

What makes the songs on this CD all the more inspiring is that they were put together by over 100 musicians and singers from around the world who had never met each other before. Yes, you read that right – these artists managed to put together an impressive record of songs without knowing who they were working with.

That’s when the little elf actually turned curious. Reading along, we find out that the songs on this CD were put together in the span of four years, during which a small crew traveled, with their filming and recording equipment, through the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Quite literally, they had brought together music and inspiration from the world around, all poured into this little CD case I was holding.

Let me tell you something: when the elf fell off his high cynic’s perch, he had to be taken to the hospital for multiple fractures. And this is a good thing, for we had yet to discover the adjoining DVD!

The Playing for Change CD/DVD set was released on April 28, 2009. It has fared pretty impressively in the five months since then. In the last 20 weeks, it peaked at number 1 on the BillBoard World Music Album Charts where it currently sit at number 3. “The success of Playing for Change illustrates the world’s desire for a truly authentic connection,” stated Concord Music Group co-owner Norman Lear. “Mark and his team brilliantly tapped into the collective undercurrent of change. We’re thrilled to help his beautiful vision become reality.”

Did I mention there was also a DVD of video clips included with the CD? The videos are all on YouTube, where they have been watched almost 20 million time (combined): the video for “War/No More Trouble” has been viewed almost 1,5 million times, the video for “Stand by Me” has been viewed almost 14 million times, and the video for “One Love” has been viewed a little over 2 million times. Check out their YouTube channel for other videos as well as some great interviews:

But wait! That’s not all. A series of concerts were held during the month of March 2009 in Austin, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City. They were so successful that another series of concerts has been planned in the coming months, which will take the group from Portland to Boston, to Milwaukee, Denver and Santa Fe, as well as in two major cities in Canada (Toronto & Vancouver).

The proceeds from concert ticket sales go towards the Playing for Change Foundation. Many music-related initiatives are supported by the Foundation, including building its first music school in Guguletu, South Africa. And, as the cherry on top of the sundae: Playing for Change was also featured on The Colbert Report in August 2009.

Although the movement itself is worth supporting through the purchase of this CD/DVD, I’m very happy to openly encourage everyone to buy it for the musical content itself. I have been playing the CD while typing out this review, which keeps getting interrupted by daydreams of peace and dancing in the African savanna. I have already purchased it for myself, have gotten it for a dozen of my friends as gift and am planning on getting it for another couple of people as their Christmas present.

And don’t worry about the little elf; he has recuperated beautiful and has joined the Playing for Change movement as a recording technician. If you attend one of the upcoming concerts, please tell him I said hi, and remind him that I need my CD back.

(First published on Blogcritics)

Playing for Change features on The Colbert Report

Remember ‘Playing for Change’? I wrote a post about it a little while ago (here). I’m really happy that this great initiative is slowly gaining momentum. I purchased the ‘Playing for Change’ CD and it has become one of the musical ‘spiritual ladders’ in my music collection, an amasing ladder to my soul I am not yet even remotely getting tired of (official website here).

Playing for Change’s Mark Johnson made an appearance on The Colbert Report a couple of nights ago (August 12th to be exact). The interview was a typical Colbert one and was followed by a live rendition of ‘Stand by Me’. (Watch the interview here. Watch the live performance of ‘Stand by Me’ here.).

I especially loved Stephen Colbert’s quip about how, in his opinion, a good artist is someone who makes a lot of money. Even if it was made in the spirit of late-night comedy, there is, quite unfortunately, a lot of truth in it. Granted, this truth might have unconsciously crept up on us because of our constant overexposure to cookie cut and mass produced commercial music (think Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers: they are everywhere!), but it doesn’t change the fact that nowadays, the highest grossing artists are mostly commercial.

We have entered something of a vicious cycle, perpetuated on the one side by an aggressive marketing that puts commercial music within easy reach of the population, and on the other by a still-naïve population that equates financial success with quality and talent. After all, it makes sense that: talent + soul + hard work = amazing music = lots of sales = financial success, therefore if the abovementioned artists are financially successful, then it must mean that they have talent and soul.

But this equation is void in a culture where intensive marketing tips the balance in whatever direction it wishes, and usually for the purpose of making money. Nowadays, quality, talent and even soul aren’t enough; you have to have a powerful marketing team behind you to make sure you become the success that you deserve to be (or don’t, for that matter).

Check out some of the theories behind why performers like New Kids on the Block, the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, The Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus have become famous and are staying famous: here, here, here and here.

And a little off topic but still really interesting: go here to read a little about how Japanese schoolgirls (yes, you read that right) are helping refining marketing strategies in Japan.

Reading about this particular strategy makes me think of the concept explained in the book ‘The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed’ by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, in which the authors argue that the counter-culture that was created in direct opposition to the culture as defined by the likes of NKOTB becomes, in the end, the culture itself (think Kurt Cobain and Converse…).

Thankfully, we now have the Internet, and although we (too) often find crappy music on it, there are also gems that are waiting to be found.

Playing for Change is definitely one of them.

Watch Playing for Change video clips here and here.

Follow the Playing for Change team in this series of episodes chronicling their work.

Playing for Change: Peace through Music

Seriously – how can a world that produces beautiful things like the video below also produce the cookie-cutter garbage that so heavily pollutes our airwaves?

Yes, Bono is back, lending his voice to yet another musical endeavour meant to raise awareness about our common desire for peace in the world… And, my previous somewhat scathing post notwithstanding, Bono does need to be given credit for putting so much effort into raising awareness. Hopefully these efforts will coalesce into something more than mere words and music.

So what is Playing for Change?

Playing for Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music. The idea for this project arose from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. No matter whether people come from different geographic, political, economic, spiritual or ideological backgrounds, music has the universal power to transcend and unite us as one human race. And with this truth firmly fixed in our minds, we set out to share it with the world. (…)

We built a mobile recording studio, equipped with all the same equipment used in the best studios, and traveled to wherever the music took us. As technology changed, our power demands were downsized from golf cart batteries to car batteries, and finally to laptops. Similarly, the quality with which we were able to film and document the project was gradually upgraded from a variety of formats– each the best we could attain at the time—finally to full HD.

One thing that never changed throughout the process was our commitment to create an environment for the musicians in which they could create freely and that placed no barriers between them and those who would eventually experience their music. By leading with that energy and intent everywhere we traveled, we were freely given access to musicians and locations that are usually inaccessible. In this respect, the inspiration that originally set us on this path became a co-creator of the project along with us! (…)

Over the course of this project, we decided it was not enough for our crew just to record and share this music with the world; we wanted to create a way to give back to the musicians and their communities that had shared so much with us. And so in 2007 we created the Playing for Change Foundation, a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation whose mission is to do just that. In early 2008, we established Timeless Media, a for-profit entity that funds and extends the work of Playing for Change. Later that year, Timeless Media entered into a joint venture with the Concord Music Group through the support of label co-owner and entertainment legend Norman Lear and Concord Music Group executive vice president of A&R John Burk. Our goal is to bring PFC’s music, videos and message to the widest possible audience.

Now, musicians from all over the world are brought together to perform benefit concerts that build music and art schools in communities that are in need of inspiration and hope. In addition to benefit concerts, the Playing for Change band also performs shows around the world. When audiences see and hear musicians who have traveled thousands of miles from their homes, united in purpose and chorus on one stage, everyone is touched by music’s unifying power.

And now, everyone can participate in this transformative experience by joining the Playing for Change Movement. People are hosting screenings, musicians are holding benefit concerts of every size, fans are spreading the message of Playing for Change through our media, and this is only the beginning. Together, we will connect the world through music!

Further explore this wonderful initiative here – enjoy!

It’s no wonder that music is one of the easiest ways for us to get over our mental and historical obstacles. In the Baha’i Writings, Baha’u’llah tells us that: “We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high.” The song War/No More Trouble is such a ladder to my soul. I have been having some trouble with colleagues of mine, and the anger and resentment I feel towards them melt away when I listen to this song. It reminds me that my problems, although they aren’t easy to deal with, aren’t as bad as some of the troubles afflicting others. It also gives me the peace of mind and the calmness of heart needed to deal with the situation in a calmer way. I actually have this song on my portable music player – and each time I need to deal with a thorny, emotional situation, I put it on as a form of preparative therapy.

Hmmm. Perhaps world leaders should consider doing so… Wouldn’t World Summits and Peace Talks end very differently if they were forced to listen to music like this?

I need to get in touch with Bono..