Playing for change: peace and development through music

Aliya Aïssou, translated by Mélody Lacouture
30 Janvier 2015

Playing for change is a group of artists that promotes solidarity and peace around the world through a musical project that includes singers from all parts of the world. Charity ambitions and artistic performances are its hallmarks. Here is the portrait of this international project.

Credit DR
Credit DR
The project was launched by Whitney Kroenke and sound engineer and film-maker Marc Johnson, who was strolling down the streets, camera in hand, in the United States in search of street artists to film. Playing for change is about educational and peace-making ambitions through music. Indeed, the founders consider music as being able to transcend human divisions. After numerous musical encounters thanks to his journey, along with his portable music studio, Marc Johnson produced a documentary called “Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians”, in which he gathered videos of his journey in order to show the friendly and unifying aspect of street music. 

Original videos

The project took a new turn in 2005 when Marc Johnson met the musician Roger Ridley on a street in California. From then on, Marc Johnson started creating videos of successful songs interpreted in the streets by international singers. Many took part in the project, such as the French singer Manu Chao who interpreted “One love” by Bob Marley, and the Dutch singer Clarence Bekker who, amongst others, starred in the video for “Stand by me”, to which  the American Roger Ridley also contributed. The video showing interpretations of the great Ben E. King’s songs was a huge success on YouTube and has recently reached more than 68 million views. The success of Playing for Change is undoubtedly linked to the participation of worldwide-known artists as much as it is to the artistic wealth of the performances. Because beyond the charity aspect of the projects, the performances are also artistically rich.  The interpretations are very original since the artists are filmed in different streets around the world: from Rio de Janeiro to New Orleans and Johannesburg. 

Playing for Change Foundation

The singers taking part in the videos posted on the Internet form a real band that the project itself calls “Playing for Change Band”. Today, this atypical band tours on different stages around the world in order to increase the reach of Playing for Change Foundation, whose aim is to raise funds that will finance the construction of music and multimedia art schools in the poorest countries. The Foundation has so far participated in the construction of three music schools: one in 2008 in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, another in Mali and a school of music and dance in Tamale, Ghana in 2010.

Artists from multiple countries on the 5 continents are involved in this project that aims to build music schools but also schools teaching other multimedia skills, such as filming, video editing, to name but a few in the poorest places in the world.

The project’s performances

Credits DR
Credits DR
The initial project involved filming artists from all over the world singing classics. However, the project now has many different aspects. The singers interpret these cult songs, but they also perform them on stage. The band was on tour in Brazil in November after performing around Europe last summer.

Beyond its charity mission, whose aim is to build art schools in poor regions around the globe, the project takes part in smaller missions such as distributing blankets and food to people in need. This is what Louis Mhlanga, one of the Playing for Change Band artists who Le Journal International had the chance to talk to about the project, explained. Louis Mhlanga is a South African guitarist who met Marc Johnson while he was looking for performers for one of his videos in South Africa. Johnson then suggested Louis Mhlanga come to the United States to join some of the Playing for Change performances. He has been part of the project ever since, and was among the artists who went on tour (in Europe) last summer as well as in Brazil. He describes himself as a “guitarist who is happy to contribute to a good cause”.

Choosing music as the cement of this project is a genuine decision. As one of the founders, Marc Johnson explained in an interview on France 24 in 2009, the aim of this work is to link humans together using music. According to him, music is unifying and therefore a good way to get people around the world together around a charity project, which, we shall be reminded, aims to build schools in the poorest countries around the world. All citizens willing to take part in the project can donate funds to the Playing for Change Foundation via its official website  on which it is also possible to keep up with the different projects of the collective. 

A documentary, which came out in October 2009 and was produced by Marc Johnson himself and Jonathan Walls, deals with this committed project. It is called “Playing for Change: peace through music” and depicts the journey of the making of the videos previously mentioned and shows the encounter with several artists from all over the world who share their point of view on the universal benefits of music on the path toward peace between humans.