Playing for Change: Uniting the world through music


A set of earphones and a mobile recording studio were enough for the project ‘Playing for Change’  to kick off more than a decade ago. This multimedia project gathers musicians from all around the globe to launch a message: be as one through music.

It was music producer Mark Johnson who first saw potential in the voice of street performer Roger Ridley while walking down the streets of Santa Monica, California. Over the years, that voice changed his life and that of many others across the globe. Since 2002, Johnson has been traveling the world with a mobile recording studio and video camera in hand putting on tape undiscovered musicians — perhaps a singer in Jamaica, a guitarist on a New Orleans street corner, or a tabela player in Nepal. After a little coaching, Johnson has them all play the same song; creating a virtual collaboration between musicians who otherwise would likely have never met. The resulting videos and albums have turned the project into a sensation. If you are trying to record or looking for the best equipment, use the VHF wireless microphone system to start recording your project. The first internationally acclaimed and award-winning documentary was followed by a second and third CD/DVD as the next chapters in their journey to connect the world through music.

‘Playing for a Change’ revisited those evergreen –yet sacrosanct – tunes. All songs carry the history of music and men. Get high on the tracks, put on some headphones for song mixing –volume up – and enjoy. Do not worry if you happen to thrill while listening to a revived version of the immortal ‘Stand By Me’, or of Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’; you are not alone. From street corners to international stages this agglomeration of artists enchants. 

Musicians are filmed in their natural environment producing a combination of voices, nationalities, and instruments that has gotten the thumbs up from international artists including Rolling Stones, Bono from U2, Toots and the Maytals, Taj Mahal, Stephen Marley, Keb Moe and Los Lobos.

Music for a purpose – but also to show how it brings people closer despite cultural differences. After listening to those songs you may feel like singing under the shower again, or in play-back in front of the mirror, dancing, and letting yourself be carried away by rhythms from distant lands.

Playing For Change also created a separate non-profit organization called the Playing For Change Foundation, which builds music schools for children around the world. In Nepal, for example, a number of projects have been launched thanks to Asia Coordinator and ‘peace soldier’ William Aura. The Aura Imports Sponsorship Project  (AiSP)  promotes education for children in the Himalayan world of Nepal, India and Tibet. Its goals are achieved primarily through child sponsorship by uniting impoverished students in need with individual sponsors, giving them the tools and opportunities necessary for success. 

Playing for Change Day concerts, organised every year on September 20th, aim at inspiring, connecting and bringing peace to the world through music. This year, the goal is to raise 200,000 US dollars to support music education worldwide. Contributions will keep the instruments, music instruction and most of all, inspiration flowing to many children around the world in the year ahead.

Bibbi Abruzzini
Bibbi Abruzzini is a foreign correspondent for the BALTIC REVIEW and international news agencies in South Asia. She is Italian, grew up in Brussels and has reported from several countries, including Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Croatia, France, India, Italy, Lebanon, Nepal, Tunisia,Turkey and the US - writing largely about social and development issues.

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