VOA Special English TV: Playing for Change

A project called Playing for Change unites musicians from around the world. Producer Mark Johnson tells what happened when he saw two religious workers performing at a train station in New York City.

MARK JOHNSON: “And on this day, I saw an amazing moment when 200 or so people stopped. Nobody got on the train. Everyones watching this music. And some people were crying, jaw dropping and smiling, and the collection of people who normally just run by each other, here they are, coming together for music in a language they dont even understand.”

Johnsons first recording for the project was of an American street musician singing “Stand by Me.” He then began traveling, and recorded more than thirty other musicians singing the same song. “Stand by Me” was the first big hit for Playing for Change. The video has been seen more than 30 million times on the Internet.

Soon, Johnson had asked more than 100 musicians to take part in the project. He says their message is about more than music.

MARK JOHNSON: “Playing for Change is a movement of people around the world who believe that with music we can inspire each other to come together. In a world with so many divisions, Playing for Change is trying to create inspiring connections for the human race through music.”

Johnson asked 10 musicians from seven countries to perform in North America. One of them is Clarence Bekker of Suriname.

CLARENCE BEKKER: “The first rehearsals and getting all the band together its a strange feeling, you know. I was kind of a little nervous. You dont know who is gonna be in the band, if youre gonna like these people or not. From the first second weve been together we are like one family.”

Congolese musician Mermans Kenkosenki also belongs to the group.

MERMANS KENKOSENKI: “It is a dream coming true to me. In my country, they say music is food for the soul. For me, as a musician, it is a dream to be out there and spread the message. Lets make this world a better place for our children, for our future.”

South African musician Louis Mhlanga says Playing for Change is spreading an important message.

LOUIS MHLANGA: “It is what the world needs. To open peoples thoughts, to make them aware that there is love, peace, happiness and respect to be shared.”

The project created an organization that provides musical supplies and educational programs to poor communities around the world. It has set up schools to teach the beauty of music and spread the message of Playing for Change.

MARK JOHNSON: “I think that a project like this shows us that we can all come together, believe in each other, respect our differences and celebrate out connections.”

I’m Shirley Griffith.