PFC + Baaba Maal at the Hollywood Bowl

What an unbelievable show tonight at the Hollywood Bowl! I have had the privilege of seeing the PFC Band perform at venues all over the world, but there was something truly magical about seeing them perform tonight at the bowl. When they took the stage in front of a crowd of over 10,000 fans, a wave of emotion ran through me that I was wholly unprepared for. I remembered the experience of taking Jason Tamba and Mermans Mosengo on a tour of LA and looking down at the Hollywood Bowl from high up in the hills. “It won’t be long before you two are performing there,” I told them. They looked at me somewhat nonplussed and smiled it off. And tonight, seeing them share a stage with Baaba Maal in front of such a crowd was a special moment– one that was made all the more memorable when Baaba Maal invited us all on stage to close out the show!

The band is headed to Europe in the next few days– if you are anywhere near any of the cities they are playing in, I highly suggest you check out their show!

Success in San Diego

It seems like Playing For Change keeps getting better and better as the days go on. Two days ago, the band and crew flew out to our next destination, San Diego, where everyone could relax after a long six-hour flight. I was unpleasantly surprised at how cold it was in June in southern California though. The night air whipped through my cotton tank top as I thought about the thick humidity and unbearable heat in New York City. And that was before the recent heat wave!

After a good night sleep, everyone woke up ready to play at the Belly Up down the block from the hotel. Clarence and I took a walk to the nearby beach where the sandy brown cliffs hung over the crashing waves. They seemed to swallow up more and more of the beach as they exploded onto shore. These were not like the waves I was used to in New Jersey. I kept my eyes peeled for great whites, but the only wildlife I saw were the seagulls. I’™ll take it.

Later on that day, we all made our way to the venue. Everyone was feeling quite nice and comfortable in the place. It had a good vibe. The stage was not too big and it was just the right amount of people for the band to really rock. More members of the PFC family showed up: Jeremy and Joel Goulder, as well as the Road Rebel crew, and some local friends of the artists.

The show itself was magnificent. It was the first time I ever got to see Louis really rip on his guitar, and I was floored. I have never seen someone pluck those strings the way that man does. It was like the instrument was an extra appendage, something like an extension of his body that had been there since the day he was born. His fingers lightly grazed each string as he referenced his mental fret board. The band played memorably well and the crowd could not seem to stop dancing. It was a great success.

I have been to concerts and shows time and time again. Of all the bands I have ever seen, no one has shaken me like Playing For Change does during their performance. Audience members cry at every single show. There is never a dull moment with a nine piece band of musicians from all around the world. The music is uplifting, the energy is unconventional, and the performance is unsurpassable. It is not hard to have a life changing experience with Playing For Change.

Change Came in NYC

The Big Apple welcomed the Playing For Change Band to the Summer Stage in Central Park, New York City last night. After traveling from upstate Kingston, New York, the band was anxious to play yet another impressive performance for all of their eager fans.

The city seemed innocent and delicate in the early morning as I woke up to grab myself some breakfast. The Empire Hotel conveniently located on Broadway and 69th was an African themed high rise with comfy beds and an elegant rooftop lounge. Grandpa did not have to see the hotel to know that it was going to be a challenge to be frugal at a place like that. After I ordered some room service he asked, “Is there a tissue box around here?” I answered, “Sure. Are you feeling sick” He simply replied, “œI’™mma need to live in it after I pay this room service bill.” A booming laugh followed thereafter that bounced off the walls as loud as thunder. His laugh is unforgettable.

After staying a couple days in New York and getting better acquainted with the town, the Playing For Change Band was ready for their show in the park. It was a large stage that the band would play on for an hour and fifteen minutes before Babba Maal got up for his performance. Although they were opening for another artist, they were still excited to get playing time and exposure. A large crowd of roughly 2,000 people showed up on an outside AstroTurf field under the night sky.

Performances from both Playing For Change and Babba Maal sounded terrific! I overheard an audience member say that Playing For Change left him wanting more. The band would be very happy to know that! There was not only a good turn out of fans, but also a hefty amount of people backstage who help support the Playing For Change Foundation. And luckily for the band, there was an after party thrown for them at a nearby club, which everyone said was a good time

Something very special happened the night of the show at the Summer Stage. Among those 2,000 people in the crowd, my parents stood with proud eyes. Both of them came out to support me, but they had not spoken to each other in 17 years. I do not know if there was something in that New York City air that night, or if it was just the music of Playing For Change that brought a miracle to my family. My parents actually shared a laugh with each other that night. They even came to an agreement about legal financial matters, which I had never seen happen in all of my childhood years. Playing For Change brought change to my life before my very own eyes. I am forever grateful to the music of Playing For Change.

Today we travel to sunny San Diego, California for a show at the Belly Up. California shall be fun! Goodbye East Coast!

No Worries in Woodstock

Wow, what a week it has been! Rehearsals in Kingston, New York at the Clubhouse studio could not have gone better and the show was great. Everyone is excited to be back on the tour, just playing music and working towards putting on the best performances an audience could ask for!

While the Playing For Change musicians worked on adding three new songs to their repertoire, the summer sun set over the rolling fields and lush green trees in the backyard of the barn house studio. Some of the band members lived at the studio; equipped with a full kitchen, living room area, a handful of well-decorated bedrooms, and a fully stocked live and control room. Ranging from equipment like a Neve 8058 MKII Vintage Recording Console, a 1960s Ludwig drum kit, and a selection of Telefunken Tube Microphones, the band sounded unbelievably clean. Personally, my favorite part of the studio was the two old pooches holding down the fort accompanied by a mischievous kitten who licked the steal my chair every time I got up.

Rehearsing at the studio was a great experience for everyone in the band. It was easy to relax and take in the picturesque surroundings. I do not know if it was the mountain air or just the summer wind, but the creative juices were flowing like the wine! Paul Antonell, the studio owner, hired a talented chef that cranked up the heat with some appetizing dinners and delectable desserts. With bellies full and minds at ease, the band laughed the nights away.

The nearby town of Woodstock is beautiful! It is a quaint old place, but the music scene still lives on in the town named after one of the most memorable music festivals in history. Local street musicians gather in the Village Green, a small cement center of town with a few benches and flowerpots. Mom & Pop shops line the winding roads, advertising organic foods and local artwork. It was a town full of musicians, which made the band feel right at home. It also brought a band member, Peter Bunetta, back to the days when it was his home. He told us stories of how he traveled to Woodstock to be a drummer for his friend’s band, and how rent was much cheaper in 1970. I enjoyed listening to his stories.

Time flew and our days slowly dwindled until the travel day, when some members of the band took the train and others drove down to New York City for the Central Park Summerstage show. Our stay in upstate New York was unforgettable. Thanks Clubhouse Studio, Bearsville Theater, and Woodstock, for giving such a warm welcome to the Playing For Change Band!

PFC Foundation’s newest music school in Kirina, Mali: work in progress

kids calebasse

This entry is available in three languages: English / Español / Français (just scroll down!). For more information about the Playing For Change Foundation, check out: playingforchange.org

 

A few months ago, the Playing for Change Foundation started its third music school on the African continent. The school is located in the village of Kirina, 40 kilometers south from Bamako, Mali. Kirina is a griot village without any electricity network and a place where the inhabitants live in little houses with straw roofs made of bricks that have dried from the sun’s heat. The Griots play an essential role in the Malian culture: they transmit the oral traditions trough music and poetry. It is now our third trip to Kirina, thanks to our great friend and musician, Mahamadou Diabate, brother of one of the greatest Kora players in the planet, Toumani Diabate.

The school is being built on land that was donated to us by the elders. The work started this week with the blessing and the active participation of the entire village. In order to put together this project, our philosophy is based on listening and involving the different components of the village (the elders, the youth, and the women). The school will help the people from Kirina to preserve and share their musical traditions which have been slowly disappearing. Beyond the music school, we are improving the access to drinking water for the villagers, and another aspect of the project is the creation of a traditional instruments workshop. It is destined to perpetuate the tradition of handcrafted traditional instruments and at the same time bring income to the villagers with the sales of those instruments through our international networks.

We arrived almost a week ago in Mali and we’re going to Kirina everyday to work on the project with the villagers, discuss ideas and build a better future together for the next generation. Today, all the youth of the village helped us transport thousands of bricks made by the villagers. It is so emotional to see how the people from Kirina, all ages, are getting involved in the project. Since the beginning of the process, we wanted them to play an important role into the decisions linked to the project. To give an example, we consulted the inhabitants of Kirina for the architecture of the school. The Malian architect that we contracted went to Kirina to submit to the villagers and discuss with them the two options of school. The elders organized a meeting and decided which school they preferred. The sand we are using for the construction comes directly from the Niger river, located 4 km from the village. The sand is extracted manually, loaded on a small boat and then transported to the village. In about 3 weeks, the construction of the school should be finished and we hope it will open its doors by the end of September. We’re counting on your support to help us to make that dream come true.

Español:

La Fundación Playing for Change inició hace unos meses el proyecto de su tercera escuela de música en el continente africano. La escuela que estamos construyendo se sitúa en el pueblo de Kirina, a unos 40 kilómetros de Bamako. Kirina es un pueblo “griot” sin electricidad donde sus habitantes viven en casitas con techo de paja, hechas con ladrillos secados al sol. Los griots juegan un papel determinante en la cultura en Mali: transmiten las tradiciones orales a través de la musica y de la poesía. Es ahora nuestro tercer viaje a Kirina, gracias a nuestro amigo griot y músico Mahamadou Diabaté, hermano del gran maestro de la Kora Toumani Diabaté.

La escuela  se esta construyendo en una tierra que nos fue cedida por los jefes del pueblo. Las obras empezaron esta semana con la bendición y la participación de todo el pueblo. Para la realización del proyecto, pretendemos ante todo escuchar y involucrar los diferentes componentes de Kirina ( jefes, juventud, mujeres). La escuela esta destinada a ayudar a la gente de Kirina a conservar y transmitir sus tradiciones musicales, que están desapareciendo poco a poco, según el testimonio de los ancianos. Mas allá de la escuela de música, estamos intentando mejorar el acceso al agua potable en el pueblo. Otro aspecto del proyecto es el taller de instrumentos tradicionales que estamos montando: se destinará¡ a la fabricación de instrumentos tradicionales, aportando al mismo tiempo una fuente de ingresos al pueblo, gracias a la venta de los instrumentos a través de nuestras redes internacionales.

Hemos llegado a Mali hace una semana: cada dí­a vamos a Kirina para trabajar sobre el proyecto con los habitantes, intercambiar ideas y construir juntos un futuro mejor para las nuevas generaciones de Kirina. Hoy, toda la juventud nos ayuda a transportar miles de ladrillos elaborados en el pueblo. Es una gran emoción de ver como los habitantes de Kirina, todas edades confundidas se involucran y creen en el proyecto. Desde el principio del proceso queremos que tengan un papel esencial en las decisiones. Para dar un ejemplo, el arquitecto que hemos contratado estuvo en Kirina para proponer  a los habitantes dos propuestas de escuelas y escuchar sus ideas. Los jefes del pueblo organizaron una asamblea y eligieron la escuela que preferían. La arena que estamos usando para la construcción de la escuela viene directamente del río Niger, situado a unos 4 kilómetros del pueblo. La arena esa recogida manualmente, cargada en una lancha antes de ser transportada en el lugar de las obras. En unas tres semanas, la construcción de la escuela tendra que llegar a su fin y esperamos que pueda abrir sus puertas al final del mes de septiembre, para ayudar a la gente de Kirina a  transmitir a las nuevas generaciones sus tradiciones musicales ancestrales. Contamos con su apoyo para que este sueño se convierta en una realidad.

Français:

La Fondation Playing for Change a entamé il y a quelques mois le projet de sa troisième école de musique sur le continent africain. Cette école que nous sommes en train de construire se situe dans le village de Kirina, à 40 km au sud de Bamako, au Mali. Kirina est un village de griots où il n’y a ni eau courante ni réseau électrique et où les habitants vivent dans des cases au toit de paille, faites de briques séchées au soleil. Les griots jouent un rôle fondamental dans la culture malienne: ils sont les garants  de la transmission d’une culture ancestrale au travers de la musique et de la poésie. C’est aujourd’hui la troisième fois que nous nous rendons à Kirina, grâce à l’intermédiaire de notre ami griot et musicien Mahamadou Diabaté, frère du grand joueur de Kora, Toumani Diabaté.

L’école se trouve sur une terre qui nous a été cédée dans le village et les travaux ont commencé cette semaine avec la bénédiction et la participation active du village tout entier. Notre philosophie pour l’élaboration de ce projet est basée sur l’implication et l’écoute des différentes composantes du village. Cette école devra permettre aux habitants de Kirina de perpétuer et de transmettre aux nouvelles générations leurs traditions musicales qui, selon l’appréciation des anciens du village, sont en voie de disparition. Au-delà de l’école de musique en elle-même nous cherchons à améliorer l’accès à l’eau potable dans le village. Un autre aspect du projet est l’atelier d’instruments traditionnels que nous souhaitons mettre en place, afin que les gens de Kirina puissent perpétuer leurs traditions de fabrications d’instruments mandingues tout en profitant de notre réseau international pour pouvoir les vendre et apporter ainsi une source de revenus aux gens du village.

Nous sommes au Mali depuis quelques jours et nous nous rendons tous les jours à Kirina afin de travailler avec les gens du village à l’élaboration du projet, échanger des idées et construire ensemble un futur meilleur pour les nouvelles générations. Aujourd’hui toute la jeunesse nous a aidé à transporter des milliers de briques en ciment fabriquées sur place. C’est vraiment émouvant de voir à quel point les gens de Kirina s’impliquent dans le projet, tous ages confondus. Dès le début du processus nous avons fait en sorte qu’ils jouent un rôle dans les décisions relatives au projet. Par exemple nous avons consulté les habitants de Kirina sur l’architecture de l’école. L’architecte malien que nous avons engagé est parti à Kirina soumettre deux possibilités d’école et nous avons laissé les gens du village, réunis en assemblée pour l’occasion, choisir celle qui leur plaisait le plus.   Le sable utilisé pour la construction vient du fleuve Niger, situé à environ 4 km du village: le sable est extrait manuellement puis chargé dans une pirogue avant d’être transporté sur le chantier. Dans quelques semaines, la construction de l’école devrait être terminée et nous espérons qu’elle pourra ouvrir ses portes dans les prochains mois et permettre aux habitants de Kirina de transmettre aux nouvelles générations leur culture musicale. Nous comptons sur votre support pour nous aider à faire de ce rêve une réalité.

 

Family Reunion

I was in a Playing For Change Foundation board meeting when I got the message: Jason Tamba and Mermans Mosengo have landed– they’re in a hotel in Marina del Rey.” The meeting had just adjourned, and I couldn’t help but smile. The last time I had seen my friends was December in Madrid– we had just concluded an unforgettable tour (almost thirty shows over the course of 6 weeks)– and now here they were in LA! My brother and I drove straight from the meeting to their hotel; sheer joy as we hugged our hellos!

We headed back to our home in Venice and caught up. Before too long our conversation turned to the band’s upcoming tour (which, or course is why Jason and Mermans were in town). My brother and I had just picked up an advance copy of the band’s about-to-be-released live performance film, and we thought it would be fun to watch it together. Just as we popped in the DVD, Mark and Raan showed up– perfect timing!

I could not have predicted the impact that pressing “PLAY” would have on me. I have been watching cuts of this film for the past six months. I knew every word that our band members were going to say, and every note that was going to be played. And yet as I watched Jason and Mermans watch themselves– larger than life– I was overcome.

The gravity of this project was hammered home for me. Years of traveling the world, meeting people who became my family; who opened their lives to our crew; who left their homes because they felt a connection to musicians across the planet; who created a band that connected the world… seeing the joy in their faces at the realization of a vision so powerful– it left me speechless.

The group migrated to our backyard fire pit, and the evening was transformed into a campfire acoustic jam that beckoned the neighbors to come and join. I am so thankful to be a part of this project, and it is a true honor be able to contribute to its message being shared with the world. One Love!