Acting Locally, Riffing Globally

Not many New Orleans buskers who’ve been working the streets as long as Grandpa Elliott has (60 years) will ever perform for a crowd of 15,000—in Morocco no less. But film producer Mark Johnson and his Playing For Change Foundation has been making such unlikely events happen. For the past decade, Johnson has been globetrotting with recording equipment and a vision: to bring far-flung musicians together, sometimes through technology, sometimes face-to-face. Out last week, his second CD/DVD release, entitled Playing for Change: Songs Around the World Part 2 (PFC2), is part of his ongoing quest to re-create world music, as Johnson told Mother Jones in a 2009 interview.

PFC2, like it’s 2010 predecessor, features 150 musicians from 25 countries collaborating on a variety of classics like Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Johnson records and films the musicians playing outdoors on their home turf—a washpan player on a New Orleans’ sidewalk, a drum circle of Zuni Indians. But each records his tracks to complement ones already recorded by fellow musicians hundreds or thousands of miles away.

This setup allows the musicians “to play where they’re most natural, where there’s no separation between them and the people” who are walking by, Johnson says. “It’s a great way to connect.” And connection is the point here. With this second collection of songs,Johnson’s aim was linking cultures that developed along slave-trade routes—tracing a musical heritage from West Africa to Cuba and New Orleans, and then working down through Latin America. The songs were chosen based on what he felt would translate best along that route…

Read the full article at Mother Jones.


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