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Pop Filter Hot Pick: Playing for Change promotes world peace through music


Still kicking yourself 43 years later for missing that legendary concert on a sprawling White Lake, New York farm? Born way too late to have been there? Either way, there's a new breed of globally minded musicians who have come together to promote peace, love and understanding via the multimedia movement Playing for Change.

Launched with the lofty goal of using music to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music, the international initiative was founded in 2004 by American music producer Mark Johnson. Assembling a team of both professional and self-taught musicians in his mobile recording studio, Johnson and his collaborators traveled the world during the mid-2000s, making stops in New Orleans, Barcelona, South Africa, India, Nepal, the Middle East, and Ireland.

Exploring creative synergies between cultures, the project uses music to empower citizens to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people from different geographic, political, economic, spiritual, and ideological backgrounds.

On Weds., Feb. 29th, the project brings its Playing For Change Band--a worldwide family network of musicians--to the Byham Theater for one night of diverse and uplifting sounds. The ensemble's talented lineup includes percussionist Mohammed Alidu (Northern Ghana), vocalist Clarence Bekker (Netherlands/Suriname), vocalist/harmonica player Grandpa Elliott Small (New Orleans), vocalist/percussionist Mermans Kenkosenki (DRC Congo), guitarist Jason Tamba (Kinshasa, the capital of DRC Congo), and vocalist Titi Tsira (Gugulethu, Western Cape).

With many members traveling thousands of miles from their homes, the Playing for Change band regularly appears at benefit concerts that help support the construction of music and art schools in under-served communities. Since 2008, The Playing for Change Foundation has helped to created three music schools and seven music programs in South Africa, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, and Rwanda.

In 2009, the Playing For Change Foundation released the band's debut CD/DVD, Songs Around the World, which went on to nab the #10 spot on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, and was followed up by a second edition in 2011. Many of the album's tracks will be familiar to listeners--such as Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and John Lennon's "Imagine,"--but what is unique about the production is the fact that unknown street artists such as New Orleans' “Grandpa” Elliott Small and Santa Monica's Roger Ridley are featured alongside established stars like Bono and Stephen Marley.

Songs Around the World showcases a diverse array of musical styles, instruments and influences, with sounds culled from villages in Mali and the favelas of Brazil, to Jamaica, India and Japan. With an impressive itinerary that found the group performing in 15 countries, Playing for Change has recorded more than 150 musicians. Don't miss their one-night only stop in Pittsburgh.

Purchase tickets.

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