Another Amazing Day with Baaba Maal

We met up with Baaba and his band this afternoon at his house and have been filming and recording him for the past 12 hours straight. His music is so powerful– you don’t have to be able to understand the lyrics to be awestruck by the beauty of his songs’ melodies and his amazing voice. After recording three or four songs with his band, we started working with his some of his musicians one at a time, adding them to our new Songs Around the World. As of today we are up to six musicians on our first track, representing three different countries.

We filmed and recorded until the light was gone, then lit a lantern and sat in a circle w/ Baaba and his band. They performed an other worldly campfire-style acoustic concert that grew and grew in numbers. In the beginning there were only 8 or 10 of us, but by the end of the evening we were surrounded by a few dozen of Baaba’s friends and family all singing and celebrating with us.

Around 11:00PM the crew and I headed to the stadium where Baaba would be performing, to setup our gear. He took the stage around midnight and performed until 3AM! Unfortunately we had to stop filming around 2 o’clock because by that point we had shot through every memory card we had brought with us– what a day!

The crew and I are now on our way back to our hotel in Dakar– I’m actually typing this posting from the back seat. We’re all looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep, and then are planning on taking the day tomorrow to go through all the footage we have shot since arriving in Senegal four days ago– we’ve been so busy filming and recording that it’s been difficult to keep up with it all… but of course, that is a good problem to have.

Peace and Love from West Africa!

Baaba Maal’s concert in Dakar

We spent another amazing day with Baaba Maal yesterday. He invited the PFC crew to his home in Dakar to share a festive meal with him in celebration of Tobaski. It was an incredibly special experience for all of us– not to mention delicious! Following the meal we spent some time discussing the history of music in Senegal with Baaba, and he explained the special role griottes and musicians in general play in society here. It was also very interesting to learn how Senegalese society takes care of its musicians, with gifts of money, goods, food, livestock– and more!

Following our time at Baaba Maal’s home, we went to a large open air stadium downtown where he was performing. We set up to film the event, but none of us were prepared for the overwhelming energy of the show. When Baaba came out on stage, the crowd ignited, and everyone’s excitement only went up from there. The performance was a blend of music and dance with brilliant choreography– it surpassed all my expectations and was unlike any show I have ever seen.

It was a late night last night, and the crew is just now waking up and gathering gear. We’re meeting in the lobby of our hotel in an hour and will be heading back to Baaba’s home to add him and some of his musicians to our new Songs Around the World. More to come…!

Under the Mango Tree


What an amazing day of music, recording, and sheer joy we all just shared with Baaba Maal at his house outside of Dakar! Mark first met up with him in England this past Spring while the PFC Band was preparing to share the stage with him at Glastonbury. Since then we have been planning a trip to Senegal to work with him, and today was the day we’ve all been dreaming of. Baaba invited our crew over to his home to record performances by himself and a few of his incredibly talented friends, and it went SO well.

Following a breakfast of fresh fruit and tea, we setup beneath a towering mango tree in Baaba’s front yard and spent the day recording some of the most beautiful music. We fell absolutely in love with one of his songs called “Tara.” After the session Baaba explained to us that he wrote the song years ago, but had never recorded it… until now that is– and what a recording it was! We concluded the day with a delicious meal served on a mat beneath the mango tree, and it was the perfect end to an unbelievable day.

This past year has been a beautiful journey for Playing For Change– releasing the album “Songs Around the World” and our film “Peace Through Music,” and putting together the Playing For Change Band’s first coast-to-coast tour… But all of those milestones owe their existence to days like today.

There was something magical about going back into production in the field. There is no doubt that a huge part of that magic came from Baaba Maal and his friends. More of it was created by the synergy of the music with the environment– The birds and the breeze, children playing and roosters crowing, and even the occasional passing cars all made their own contributions to the musical experience we recorded today. And knowing that we would soon be sharing this afternoon’s intimate performance with the rest of the world was the final ingredient to that special magic we all felt today.

Tomorrow is going to be another big day. The whole country (and much of the continent) is celebrating Tobaski, and Baaba is performing a large concert in honor of the holiday. We are all looking forward to another magical day of music, but for now it is back to the hotel for our crew.

Peace and Love from Senegal!


Thanksgiving in Senegal

After nearly 24 hours of traveling, the crew and I have finally arrived in Senegal. We are here to begin production on some new Songs Around the World, and cannot wait to get started. We were met at the airport this afternoon by some colleagues of Baaba Maal, who were all very kind and helped us get situated in our hotel.

We took today to get settled in, but decided to grab dinner in downtown Dakar and get a bit of a sense of what the local scene is like. We enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner that consisted of a mix of international and local fare that tasted delicious after our long trip. Following our meal we made friends with an energetic young man named Faluo who recommended a band playing at a club on the other side of town. And so we all piled into a cab (that sounded and felt like it was going to fly apart at any moment) to check out the local music scene. The band was great, but jet lag started to hit us all midway through the set and so we parted company early. We are meeting Baaba Maal at his home outside of Dakar tomorrow, and we wanted to make sure we were well rested for that!

And with that, I will conclude this Thanksgiving posting. Whether you are celebrating in the company of friends and loved ones, or reading along from the comfort of your own home, all of us at Playing For Change are honored and proud to count you among our global family. Peace and Love!

Midwest Moments

I was fortunate to join the Playing for Change Band’™s tour in Cleveland, Ohio and hopped on the bus for another journey of a lifetime through the Midwest region of our beautiful country. The fall season was in full blossom; the air was crisp, the sounds of crunching leaves were beneath my feet and the vibrant music of the Playing for Change Band consumed my soul. To be united again with the musicians and our family was rejuvenating, putting a dancing smile in my step. I wasn’t sure how the band, or myself for that matter, was going to handle the rigorous and nomadic ways of life on the road, but my hopes of an exuberant and joyous journey manifested itself and this energy became contagious and transferred itself to all audiences. The Playing for Change Movement is on FIYA right now and I am so blessed to be a part of its™ beautiful journey and would like to thank the band and our PFC family for everything we are all doing to spread the message of global unity and peace through music! Below is a short video of some moments experienced in Milwaukee. I hope you enjoy and celebrate with us as our journey continues!


Moments in Milwaukee | Playing For Change Band from Playing For Change on Vimeo.

PFC Band Visits a Philadelphia School

Last Tuesday, October 27th, was a special day for the Playing For Change Band as the Band descended upon the Philadelphia School (K-8), in, of all places, Philadelphia. Mark Johnson was invited to speak to the school about the Playing for Change project and the Foundation. However, when the Band heard that Mark was speaking at an elementary school and his two nieces (Anna and Claire) attended the school they all volunteered to come to the school and play a few songs for the teachers and students. Mark was also asked to speak to Anna and Claire’s individual music classes, and was assisted by 4 Playing for Change Band members; Louis Mhlanga (Zimbabwe), Mermans Kenkosenki (Congo), Jason Tamba (Congo), and Mohammed Alidu (Ghana). The first class, the second graders, listened to the musicians play some of their traditional music, and then joined in playing with their own xylophones. As Mermans Kenkosenki said after the class, along with music, the smiles and laughter of children is universal.

Next, the four musicians spoke and played for the kindergarten class. At the end of the class when Mohammed Alidu was going to teach the children a traditional song from Ghana, the music teacher asked the children if they knew a song that they could sing to Mohammed, and, to everyone’s surprise, they started singing a song in one of Ghana’s native languages. It was clear that both the students and the musicians were both learning and sharing that day.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get better, the rest of the Playing for Change Band showed up at the school for the concert. The rest of the musicians showed up during a third grade gym class, and it wasn’t difficult to convince Clarence Bekker, Mohammed Alidu, and Mermans Kenkosenki to play soccer with the children. Grandpa Elliott had other plans. Grandpa picked up a basketball and started shooting the ball. It clearly was not the first time Grandpa had picked up a basketball. After being told where the basket was, Grandpa took several free throws, and to everyone’s surprise (except for Grandpa) he made a shot. Not two shots later, Grandpa made his second shot!!  I don’t think the Playing for Change family will ever be surprised of what Grandpa Elliott is capable of.

After gym class, the students, teachers, and administration poured into the gymnasium for the concert. It was amazing to see groups of children staring in awe of Grandpa and the other musicians they recognized from the Playing for Change videos. During the Band’s performance of Stand by Me, and to the amazement of several teachers standing around, you could see children singing the lyrics and holding each other arm and arm. The grand finale came when Clarence Bekker treated the students to a searing tribute to Michael Jackson with his rendition of Billie Jean. Several students (with great dance moves) came up and danced with Clarence, and by the end the entire audience was up singing and dancing.

It truly was a remarkable day, and reminds all of us in the Playing for Change family what this project is all about…connecting ALL people of the world through certainly connects old and young!

Peace and One Love,
Greg J

Thank You Vancouver!!

We just performed our last show in North America, and oh what a night it was! We played the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, and everything about the venue was fantastic– the venue was beautiful, the lighting was perfect, the sound was right on, the (sold-out) crowd was full of energy, and the band has never been better.

From the moment the first note was struck the crowd was on their feet and dancing. As the night went on the band’s energy kept rising in tandem with the crowd– back and forth and back and forth until it felt like the roof was going to blow right off the house!

One of the highlights was the band’s encore performance of Billy Jean. It featured amazing solos by Louis, Grandpa, Peter, Reuben and Alidu. Clarence busted out his moonwalk, and–not to be outdone– Grandpa got up and showed off some of his moves while Louis transported everyone in the venue to another planet with the most outrageous guitar solo I’ve ever heard him play (which is saying something)!

There were a number of moments over the course of the show that I had to put my camera down and just take in everything that was going on. It was truly a night to remember… And the best part of the whole thing is that we filmed the whole show!

It has been an amazing 6 weeks on the road. Thank you so much for all the support and love you have given us along the way. We could not do any of this without you, and we cannot wait to do it all again!

Welcome to Seattle!

We hit the road after an amazing show in Portland last night, and rolled into Seattle at 4AM this morning. After a few hours rest in our hotel we all loaded into one of the tour buses and headed to Starbucks Headquarters for a short three-song set. The Playing For Change Band is featured (along with U2, Dave Matthews Band and John Legend) on a special (RED) release being distributed through Starbucks this holiday season. It’s a gift to their customers who spend $15, and for each CD distributed they are donating $1 to the Global Fund fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa.

As soon as we got back to the hotel we grabbed gear and walked a few blocks to the Moore Theatre for tonight’s concert. The 100-year-old venue is absolutely beautiful, and we can’t wait to put on another amazing show for the Playing For Change Family here in Seattle. Following tonight’s gig we’re heading to Vancouver for our last performance in North America– at least for this tour!

Tuning up at the Aladdin

Much of the PFC Crew remained behind after the band left Los Angeles a few days ago so that we could prepare to film these last few shows. This morning Mark JohnsonWhitney KroenkeJonathan WallsKevin KrupitzerEnzo Buono, myself, and our new friend Juan hopped a crack-of-dawn flight to meet up with the band in Portland.

It was wonderful to see them all again– everyone’s energy is through the roof as we roll into these last three shows of our North American Tour. We’ve said goodbye to California (and the sunny weather!) and are setting up at the Aladdin in Portland right now. While the weather may be a bit dreary, our spirits could not be higher.

We’re playing in front of a sold-out crowd tonight, and are all looking forward to sharing another beautiful evening of music with so many members of the Playing For Change Family!

California Dreaming

The guys just wrapped up three absolutely amazing shows in California. They kicked things off in Los Angeles with a bang, joined on stage by Ziggy Marley and Toots Hibbert (of Toots and the Maytals)! This show was also a benefit for the Playing For Change Foundation, and was hosted by Whitney Kroenke, Mark Johnson, and Norman Lear! The occasion was too great an opportunity to pass up, so we filmed the whole event, and are looking forward to sharing it with the PFC family– just as soon as  Jonathan Walls has time to edit it all, that is. I had a great view of all the action from the pit, and am still sorting pictures. I am looking forward to having some time do so so on the long bus ride north to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, and will add them to our flickr page as soon as I finish.

The band followed up their performance in Los Angeles with a pair of shows in Anaheim and San Francisco that had everyone smiling, dancing and hugging the night away. After a month on the road the guys have never sounded better. Spirits are high, the music is amazing, and we cannot wait to share it with a few more cities before it’s all over (for now!).

Next stop, Portland!

Jonathan Walls to speak at PFC Screening near Colorado Springs

Playing For Change: Peace Through Music co-director Jonathan Walls will be present at a screening of the film at Colorado College Campus this Tuesday, November 10th at 7PM. The event is open to the public and will be held at Armstrong Hall. Following the screening Jon Walls will be hosting a short Q&A session.

If you’re not in the Colorado Springs area but have friends or family who are, spread the word!

The PFC Band is in St. Paul!

Hey all you Minnesotans– do you recognize this statue? That’s right, the PFC Band has just arrived in St. Paul, and are getting ready to put on an unbelievable concert at the O’Shaughnessy tonight. There are still tickets available, so call your friends and roll on out to the show if you can– I know you will not be disappointed!

Next stop, Kansas City… we’re headin’ west and hope to see you at a show soon! To see when we’ll be performing in a city near you, check our Fall tour schedule.