Playing for Change: Using Music to Bring the World Together

From guitarists in California to a choir in South Africa, the Playing for Change music project is using the world’s universal language to break down barriers and build meaningful connections.

BY: Matt Corbett


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While travelling, Mark didn’t want to simply record the music and leave. The consistently hospitable musicians would often invite him and his crew into their homes after having just met. While he was outside in a South African ghetto recording the Stand by Me bass part, all of the local kids and their mothers suddenly came out from their huts and started dancing! Johnson recalls the music playing was all it took to shift their entire outlook.

“So much sorrow became so much joy,” he noticed. Johnson recalls this as the single most powerful experience he’s had to date with Playing for Change; this same area eventually became the site of the first children’s school established by the Playing for Change Foundation.

As Johnson put it, he and his crew were “out there to build a family.” This idea of forming long-standing worldwide connections led him to create the Playing for Change Foundation. The foundation builds and supports children’s performing arts schools, connecting children in the same way the organization connects musicians on its albums. It seeks to erase stereotypes and break down language barriers to find common ground. Johnson loves that the foundation is able to create “visible change,” by physically showing the happiness and well-being music can bring to a person’s life.

What’s next? “There will always be more music, more people to connect, and more schools to build,” says Johnson. Playing for Change continues to grow and is always seeking new ways to fulfill its mission of connecting the world through music. The Playing for Change Band, made of musicians featured on the various albums, is actively touring and bringing the ideas of hope and happiness to people worldwide.

Mark sees music as the “Trojan Horse” that allows them all to bring positive change and combat discrimination. In addition, the videos’ popularity on YouTube has allowed viewers everywhere to recognize new areas of the world and feel an immediate, genuine connection to them. While nothing is set in stone, Mark looks forward to the possibility of helping even more by eventually providing telemedicine, clean water, and solar power-based aid.

Playing for Change 3: Songs Around the World is available June 17th, 2014 and features performances from Keith Richards, Sara Bareilles, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and more. Check out the preview, featuring "Reggae got Soul," below.

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