Thank You, Madrid!

Last night was a night to remember– but of course we all knew it would be long before the show started. Beginning the moment we all hopped on the bus, everyone could barely contain their excitement. Sinamuva began a song as soon as the bus pulled away from our hotel, and they were quickly accompanied by an improvised percussion ensemble. Peter hopped down into the stair well and pounded on the side of the bus; Venkat began playing the ceiling with his knuckles; Mermans began to yell; People all around me began clapping; And before long half the bus was banging on something– the rest of us were singing, laughing, or filming the fun.

The 20-minute bus ride began in the rain, but by the time we arrived, the sun had come out. As we pulled up, we noticed a rainbow arching down directly above the venue. We all thought it was a great omen for the show but Mark was quick to counter that if anything, that rainbow had shown up to recharge its energy at our show. And he was right…

The Caja Magica was packed to the gills (over 8,000 people were in attendance!), and by the end of the show it felt like the place was going to blow. The band put together a set list of 25 songs (our longest list to date, I believe), and performed for well over two hours. Guest artists Nena Daconte and Kiko Veneno joined the band for a number of songs, and were greeted by raucous applause. Even our own Enzo Buono hopped on stage to harmonize (and dance!) with Tula during Chanda Mama. The addition of Sinamuva to the band rounded out the sound beautifully, and brought our total musician count to nearly 20!

It was an amazing evening, and I want to thank everyone who was with us, both in body and in spirit. I would also like to thank Acciona and Ademas for making this event possible, and also our Tour Manager Erika Duffee, who has lead this group of Peace Soldiers across North America and Spain these past two months.

I’m on a plane bound for New York City (currently experiencing a fair bit of turbulence) as I write this, and it is a bittersweet moment for me. I’m heading home for the first time in a month, and am looking forward to seeing my family for the Holidays, yet at the same time I am leaving my other family behind. But I know before long we’ll all be together, back on the road again. But for now…

Peace and Love from 30,000 feet!

 

Welcome to Madrid, Sinamuva!

With the arrival of “Sinamuva”, the South African choir from Umlazi, our band is now complete. Everyone was overjoyed as all the musicians met each other for the first time, and that energy spilled right over into today’s rehearsal. The bus ride was one massive jam session, with the choir singing and the rest of the band playing improvised percussion ranging from hand claps to banging on the ceiling– the ball bearing curtain rods even became a make-shift shaker! The energy of the whole group is off the charts and I know that tomorrow’s show is going to be an unbelievable experience.

After rehearsal we all piled back into the bus and took over an Indian restaurant. The food was delicious and the company could not have been better. It feels like one big family vacation here in Madrid, and we’re looking forward to sharing the experience with a few thousand more members of the PFC Family tomorrow night at La Caja Magica.

Peace and Love from Madrid!

A Day in the Studio

The PFC Band spent the day in the studio today. It was a long day but we got a lot accomplished. The band recorded a beautiful version of Clarence Bekker’s original “Mr. Morality” to start with. Following that the band went to work on a version of a song by The Temptations that was absolutely through the roof (Mr. Bekker has a gift for Motown!). We wrapped the day by adding a few of the band members to our new Songs Around The World, which was the perfect end to a long session.

By the time we got home we were all beat– we all pulled close to 12 hours at the studio, and were looking forward to catching a bit of rest before rehearsal the next day. Bhekani and Sinamuva are due to arrive in the morning, and we can’t wait to add them into the mix. Until then…

Peace and Love from Madrid!

Welcome to Madrid, Tula!

Today was a long day for all of us, but an amazing one! It started early with a round of interviews for half the band. The other half of us went to a little club in downtown Madrid called Marmara, where we sound checked for a gig we’d have there later that night. After the press stop and sound check we all met back up at the hotel and hopped in the bus for rehearsal. We were joined at the venue by a number of guest artists– a pair of vocalists, an accordion and a trumpet– and together we worked through the set for Thursday’s show.

We had a two hour break before we had to get to our gig at Marmara, and almost all of us met up for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Over dinner we were all thrilled to discover that Tula and Whitney had arrived, and would be joining us at the club. After our meal we all loaded the bus and were about to pull out when suddenly Erika, our tour manager, stood up and asked “Is Clarence on the bus?!” Mark informed us that while we were all eating he decided to take a power nap… Erika sprinted into the hotel and returned 5 minutes later with our groggy, but excited vocalist, and we were off.

It was a 10-minute drive to the club, and Erika spent that time working with Clarence to put the set list together. During this time Clarence had a conversation with Mermans Mosengo that set the tone for the evening:

Clarence: “Mermans, what songs do you want to play tonight?”

Mermans: “How many people are going to be in the club?”

Clarence: “About 150.”

Mermans: “Yo, let’s blow them up then. We’re gonna play all the fire songs my brother!”

And with that, the band put their heads together and built a set list of all our favorite songs. Clarence gave the list to Erika and told her that (much to the chagrin of our sound engineer) they didn’t know what order they were going to play them in, but they’d begin with a jam and figure out the rest on stage.

And so passed the evening. The stage was small (Steve’s keyboard wouldn’t even fit!), the band was tight, the club was packed, and the audience was full of fire. The band’s set was only supposed to be an hour long, but they played well into a second hour. Tula hopped on stage for a couple songs, including Pierre’s “Don’t Worry,” and spent the rest of the set dancing. It was Hugo’s birthday, so Clarence inserted an impromptu version of “Happy Birthday” into the set to celebrate. When the band finished performing, we all stuck around for quite a while singing and dancing the night away…

After an indeterminate amount of time, we heard Erika’s voice rise above the din of the club “Playing For Change, the bus is leaving… Really, I mean it. The bus is leaving now!”

And thus ended a very long day. We all loaded the bus and rolled back to the hotel. We have a day in the studio booked for tomorrow– with so many amazing musicians all in the same place we couldn’t resist the temptation to record something! But for now, my bed is calling…

Peace and Love from Madrid!

 

Madrid: Home Sweet Home (for the week anyway…)

 

We have a busy week ahead of us between rehearsals and a number of small promotional performances, but everyone’s spirits are high and we’re all looking forward to putting on a terrific show Thursday. We walked through the venue today and let me tell you– it is big! It’s an indoor football (American soccer) arena with three levels of seating. All told it holds ~6,000 people, which will make it our largest indoor performance.

We rehearsed for a few hours today, but the guest artists who were scheduled to practice with us ended up having to push a day so we wrapped early. Before we left, Titi decided she would teach a quick African Dance lesson. The picture at the top of this posting shows Pierre, Mermans and Mark joining in the fun!

Peace and Love from Madrid!

 

A Family Roadtrip

We woke up this morning and checked out of our hotel in Seville, and are now traveling by bus to Madrid. As I write this, we’re about two thirds of the way through the 350 kilometer journey, but the time has been flying. For the past four hours the back of the bus has been one big jam session, where a constantly changing group of musicians are singing, playing, and writing music. Mark Johnson and Jonathan Walls have turned the middle of the bus into a screening room, where they are sharing videos of the various shows the band has performed around the world this past year (don’t worry– we are planning on releasing these soon!). Meanwhile Enzo Buono has transformed the front of the bus into an editing studio, where he’s working on mixing the new Songs Around the World we just began in West Africa. And while all this has been going on, I have been sorting photos from the past few weeks (10 gigs down, 30 to go!). Jonathan Walls edited this short piece together so that you could share in the fun with us, I hope you enjoy it:

We’re due to arrive in Madrid in a couple hours, at which point it will be full steam ahead as we all prepare for our final concert of the year on the 17th. We’ll be adding Venkat and members of the Sinamuva choir to the lineup from last night, and will be performing in front of the largest indoor audience we’ve ever had. If you live anywhere near Madrid, I would not miss this show– More Fire!

Peace and Love from the road!

 

A Magical Evening in Seville

What an unbelievable night of music, dancing, and good vibrations we all shared last night in Seville. The venue was packed to capacity– it was standing room only (or more appropriately, dancing room only!) for the crowd, but no one seemed to mind getting a bit cozy with the people next to them for the two and a half hours the band performed.

We could feel a tangible energy in the air as everyone took the stage. All the planning, promotion, rehearsing, traveling, and excitement of the past few months had lead up to this exact moment, and it was so palpable you could practically taste it. Grandpa was the last musician to make it to his place, and as soon as the crowd caught sight of him they all began to cheer “GRANDPA! GRANDPA! GRANDPA!” in chorus. In that moment the smile that lit up his face told a beautiful story of perseverance and grace.

The show was absolutely electric. Though the musicians that just toured North America hadn’t played together for three weeks, they sounded just as tight last night as they did at the end of the tour in Vancouver. The addition of Roberto, Stefano, Pierre, Francois, and Hugo to this group took something that was already great and elevated it even further. And with Mr. Reggie McBride slinging the bass again, all these amazing musicians were in lock step with each other. The PFC Band was joined by a number of local favorites as well, including Pitingo. What a show!

We’ve just checked out of our rooms in Seville, and are about to board the bus to Madrid. Though it’s a long ride, I am sure the time will fly with all of us together– I look forward to filling you in from Madrid, and will post photos from the show soon.

Peace and Love from Seville!

Performance Tonight in Seville, Spain

The band spent most of the day yesterday rehearsing at the venue here in Seville, and everyone is geared up and ready to put on an amazing show tonight. Roberto (slide guitar), Francois (percussion), Pierre (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Stefano (sax) have fit right into the band’s groove, and the whole group has come together like one big (and growing) family. The show tonight is at El Fuerta de Isla Magica (which is a beautifully cavernous stone venue), and if you are in the area I hope to see you there!

Our last show for the year will be next week in Madrid. Tula and members from Sinamuva (the Zulu choir from South Africa) will be joining us for that show– a PFC first! So come if you can and spread the word.

Peace and Love from Seville!

A Family Gathering

After tonight’s rehearsal the crew and band returned to the hotel to quickly clean up and drop gear, then we all headed out for Tapas. We are a large group– over 20 people in all– and finding a Tapas bar that could accommodate us was no small feat. However after a half an hour of roaming the streets of Seville (and doubling back on our route more than once), we ended up finding a restaurant that was perfect.

A couple dozen plates of tapas and a few bottles of wine later, we had managed to wile away 2 or 3 hours over joyful conversation and excitement about the next day’s show. The excitement was not just about performing together, but more about everyone coming together again. Over the course of the band’s 5-week adventure across North America last month, this group of musicians became more than a band– they became a family. And after not seeing each other for the past couple weeks, bringing everyone back together again was cause for a celebration in its own right.

It wasn’t long before our group was one of the only tables left, and we decided we should all be on our way. While everyone finished their last glasses of wine, Clarence and Mermans entertained us (and the couple at the other remaining table) with a cappella versions of a selection of the band’s set list. It was another beautiful evening with the band, and we can’t wait to share the same energy with the crowd tomorrow night!

Goodbye Mali, Hello Seville!

It was a whirlwind trip to Mali for the Playing For Change crew, but what an amazing experience– and what unbelievable music! We were only in the country for a total of 48 hours, but in that time we accomplished more than we could have possibly hoped for. Our first morning in Mali we traveled to the Griot village of Kirina and were met by a reception the likes of which none of us were prepared for (Mark Johnson will post about this experience in the next few days). Crena will be the site of the Playing For Change Foundation’s next music school, and development is set to begin in the end of January!

The Foundation’s work in Mali is being coordinated by Mahamadou Diabate, who is a beautiful man and a very talented percussionist. Our first night in Mali he introduced us to his brother, Toumani Diabate, who is arguably the best kora player in the world. For our team it was off to the races from there.

Toumani invited us out to dinner and we discussed the project and our dream of adding him to one of our Songs Around the World (which we did!). The next day Toumani invited us to stay at his home and arranged for us to record a symphony of coras. Later that same day Mahamadu organized a performance by his percussion and dance troupe that was out of this world. And to commemorate the occasion, Toumani made a very generous gift to the Playing For Change crew of a sheep (who we lovingly nicknamed “Little Jon,” in honor of Jonathan Walls).

But that was yesterday. Now, four countries, three flights, a pair of taxis, and a train ride later we find ourselves at the first Playing For Change Band rehearsal for our upcoming shows in Spain. Joining the group that just finished a tour across North America are Tula, Roberto Luti, Stefano Tomaselli, Hugo Soares, Pierre Minetti, Francois Viguie, Venkat“Sinamuva”
(the beautiful choir from Umlazi, South Africa), and the incomparable Reggie Mcbride.

After 24 hours of straight travel we were all tired, but the energy we were greeted with when we walked in the door to the rehearsal space an hour ago gave us such a boost that no one is thinking about sleep (although a shower does still sound nice). We have a show in Seville on the 11th and another in Madrid on the 17th. Everyone’s spirits are soaring, and the energy is through the roof. If you have any friends in Spain, spread the word that these two shows are not to be missed!

Peace and Love from Seville!

 

Bienvenue au Mali

bienvenue au mali

After sharing one last magical night of music with Baaba Maal in Dakar, the PFC crew has just arrived in Mali. The Playing For Change Foundation’s next school is being built in Mali, and we’re here to begin work on that– and of course to keep finding more amazing musicians to add to the project as well.

Tomorrow we are heading out to the site of where the new school will be built– a village of Griots (the musician’s caste in West Africa) about an hour outside of Bamako. Mali is the right at the heart of West African music, which is the root of so much of the music we enjoy today– rock, blues, jazz– it’s all from here. We are only going to be in Mali for a short time, but I can already tell we are going to find a tremendous amount of inspiration during our stay…

2 More Great Days with Baaba Maal

We just got back from yet another amazing day with Baaba Maal and his band. We’ve spent the past two days recording up on the roof of Baaba’s home in Dakar. The intermittent calls to worship echoing from across the city and the chittering of the birds that live in one of Baaba’s trees have added a beautiful environmental component to our recordings. He has been a wonderful host to our whole crew, and we’ve all developed quite a taste for the local tea he brews– it’s an extremely strong green tea, served sweetened in small (maybe 2 ounce) glasses. Both days we’ve kept going long after the sun set (the tea kept us all wide awake), completing our sessions by the warm glow of tungsten light bulbs.

We’ve established a great foundation for our new Songs Around the World here in West Africa, adding percussion such as the calabash, talking drum, and djembe, in addition to guitar, and vocals. We’re looking forward to tomorrow, when a very famous kora player is arriving from Mauritania to add her talents to the project.

We also had a great interview today with Baaba’s Talking Drum player, Massamba Diop– what a player! He gave us some amazing insight into the history of the talking drum and how it was used as a means of communication between families and villages. He then went around the room and played each of our names. It was so cool to hear our names being spoken by his drum– his drum does talk!

Baaba Maal and his band are performing a pair of shows Friday and Saturday here in Dakar. We’re planning to meet up with them tomorrow afternoon before the show to get another session in. We can’t wait to begin to share all the great music we’re experiencing with the Playing For Change Family– and we will– just as soon as we have the chance to do some editing! In the meantime…

Peace and Love from Senegal!

Drums and Dancing at the Beach

Today we drove to a beach about 45 minutes outside of Dakar to film Baaba Maal’s talking drum player, Massamba Dioup (who is out of this world!). He brought with him a couple other talking drum players he performs with, as well as six of Baaba’s dancers who set the sand flying. As they began to play and dance, children and adults from the neighboring village gathered around to enjoy the show, and even joined in the fun with some impressive moves of their own! The children in particular took great joy in watching the musicians and dancers, and their presence added something so special to the energy of the afternoon.

The performance lasted a little over an hour. The drummers’ rhythms swirled with the dancers’ colors and choreography to create a truly mesmerizing experience. By the time the performance ended dusk was upon us (and the rising tide was only a mere few feet away from swallowing our recording gear).

We packed up quickly and headed back to Baaba’s house to thank him again for arranging such a beautiful day for us, and to say our goodbyes to our new friends. Tomorrow we are planning to head back to Baaba’s house to film and record him again with more of his amazing musicians. As Mark said earlier this evening, “the music never stops.”

Peace and Love from Senegal!