Playing For Change Foundation named 2019 Polar Music Prize Laureate

We are humbled, honored, and grateful to announce that our Playing For Change Foundation is a 2019 Polar Music Prize Laureate along with hip hop pioneer Joseph Saddler, known as Grandmaster Flash, and violinist, Anne-Sophie Mutter. The Polar Music Prize is an award that crosses musical boundaries; celebrating the power and importance of music by internationally recognizing excellence in the world of music. Past laureates include Sting, B.B. King, Yo-Yo Ma, Miriam Makeba, Metallica, Elton John, Dizzy Gillespie and more.

To every musician and their communities, and everyone around the world who’s supported the Playing For Change Movement, THANK YOU!!! This award is not just our award, it belongs to us all.

Through the power of music, we can continue to change the world; one heart and one song at a time!


>See Official Press Release

>Visit Polar Music Prize Website

>Donate to the Playing For Change Foundation


Audio-Technica: PFC’s Exclusive Global Sponsor of all Headphones and Microphones

LOS ANGELES, CAPlaying For Change (PFC)—the global movement that was created to connect the world through music by recording, filming, and distributing musical performances—is proud to announce its new sponsor, Audio-Technica, will supply microphones and headphones to all international PFC-related events. Additionally, the Playing For Change Band and the Playing For Change Foundation will receive donations of microphones and headphones as well as technical support from Audio-Technica.

Reflecting on their future relationship, Playing For Change CEO/Co-Founder Mark Johnson offers, “We have been using Audio-Technica headphones for years and are excited to have them joining in on our ongoing mission of connecting the world through music. Much of what PFC does involves getting audio in the field—a task to which Audio-Technica microphones and headphones are well-suited. Audio-Technica also understands that music is about people, that it’s our global language and heritage, and it must be preserved and cherished. We look forward to a long-lasting relationship with Audio-Technica and together, show that great sound is everywhere.”

Playing For Change represents the ways in which music unites us around the world,” adds Audio-Technica US President/CEO Phil Cajka. “We are proud to support their endeavors and we look forward to serving as an advocate for their efforts throughout the year.” That shared mission will result in Audio-Technica’s sustained presence in all PFC ventures as the organizations work together.

In addition to PFC Day events, PFCaffiliated concerts, and the Playing For Change Band directly benefitting from the Audio-Technica sponsorship, students from around the world who participate in any of the 15 Playing For Change Foundation music programs will also receive headphones, microphones, and Audio-Technica technical support.

For more information, please visit


Playing For Change Announces WE ARE ONE Benefit Concert

Los Angeles, CA, August 22, 2017Playing For Change, the multimedia company responsible for the popular ‘Songs Around The World’ video series, has announced it will host WE ARE ONEa concert benefitting the Playing For Change Foundation and celebrating 10 years of positive change through music. Official partners for the event include Los Angeles’ premier rock radio station 95.5 KLOSLA Weekly, and Japan-based music app Nana. The concert will take place on Tuesday, October 3, at the historic Mayan Theater in downtown Los Angeles and feature performances from The Doobie Brothers members Tom JohnstonPatrick Simmonsand John McFee; as well as Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett from Little Feat; The Playing For Change Band, that features 10 respected musicians from 10 different countries; world-renowned drummer James Gadson; The Ambassador of Soul, Ellis Hall; legendary harmonica player Lee Oskar; and more. Ticketing options include an exclusive VIP experience with a pre-show meet and greet reception with The Doobie Brothers and musicians, bar offerings, a priority seating area, and VIP gift bag which includes a commemorative poster. Tickets are on sale now at

Playing For Change has garnered much success over the years by combining musicians from all walks of life, all over the world and showcasing music’s unifying power. Their videos have more than 450 million total online views, with their first ‘Songs Around The World’ video, “Stand By Me,” accumulating more than 100 million views on YouTube since its release in 2008. Artists such as Keith RichardsBonoJack JohnsonDavid CrosbyJimmy BuffettSara BareillesManu Chao, and many others have participated in these multi-cultural videos performing songs such as Bob Marley’s One Love” and “War/No More Trouble,” Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” and John Lennon’s Imagine.” Playing For Change’s new record, being released next year, features The Doobie Brothers along with more than 20 musicians from across the globe in a Song Around The World version of the band’s iconic hit song, “Listen to the Music.” The video for this song will be premiered at the show on October 3rd.

The Playing For Change Foundation, a separate 501(c)3 organization, was established in 2007 in order to give back to the communities of the musicians met while filming these videos. Now embarking on its 10th year, the foundation has developed 15 music programs in 11 countries including South Africa, Rwanda, Nepal, Thailand, and Argentina, and serves more than 1200 children. All proceeds from the WE ARE ONE benefit will support free music education as well as supplemental primary educational support, and life enhancement services provided by the Playing For Change Foundation and assist in its effort to serve even more communities.

“When one thinks of the thousands of children around the world positively impacted by the Playing For Change movement, gaining free access to music education in their own homelands, the love over a decade is simply immeasurable,” said John McKenna, Executive Director of Playing For Change Foundation. “What better place to celebrate than right here where it all started? We look forward to an unforgettable evening of joy, celebration, and recommitment to the children everywhere, through united love and song.”

“This concert represents 10 years of traveling to over 50 countries connecting the world through music. From the streets and villages to the stage to the hearts of the people, Playing For Change,” states Mark Johnson, Co-Founder of Playing For Change.

Playing For Change Argentina, Work In Progress



The Playing For Change Foundation has now its own branch in Argentina with a fantastic team of people committed to bring positive change through music education across the country.

Last November, the PFC band hit the road in Argentina and performed one of its most amazing shows, in Buenos Aires, in front of 8000 people. This concert was the result of the great work from our Argentinian team and also became the starting point of our educational work in Argentina.

In Patagonia, we partnered with the IUPA ( Instituto Universitario Patagónico de las Artes ) in order to create music workshops in the area as well as connexions with the PFC programs in Argentina and around the world. Our first music program in the country is also located in Patagonia, and despite a flood that destroyed part of our school a few months ago, we have carried out several workshops in the community: Dance, traditional music, instruments making, Mapuche language as well as English classes. The idea is to be able to establish a program of consistent classes and workshops in 2017 and continue the work that has been done so far thanks to the hard work of the team in Argentina:Guillermo Schulmeier, Vanessa Ulloa, Jorge Amaolo to mention just a very few.

The second node of the PFCF work in Argentina is located in Diamante and coordinated by our friend Patrick Liotta who is putting together a music program in his hometown. Diamante is located 450km north of Buenos Aires and has a very rich musical heritage. We are looking forward to start this new Music program and as we’re doing in Patagonia, use music as a tool for education as well as contributing to the preservation of the cultural heritage.

This Wednesday, PFC co-founder Mark Johnson will speak at the Sustainable Brand Conference in Buenos Aires. For more information check out the SB 16 website.

Your support is crucial for the continuation of positive change.

Make a donation here

PFC Songs “Stand By Me” and “United” performed live with 100 classical musicians (featuring Clarence Bekker and Tula)

Conductor Philippe Fournier gathered over 100 musicians onstage in the city of Lyon, France, to perform the Playing For Change anthem “Stand By Me” along with the original PFC video. Philippe’s symphony orchestra, “l’Orchestre Confluences” as well as musicians from different horizons including PFC band members Tula and Clarence Bekker met for an incredible concert. Here are the videos of these amazing renditions of “Stand By me” and “United.”

One Love





Playing For Change Day 2014: September 20th

This September 20th, the Playing For Change Foundation will be celebrating its 4th annual Playing For Change Day, a global celebration of music and its power to unite and uplift communities all over the world. We started this Day in 2011 to provide an opportunity for all of the fans, followers, and friends of the PFC movement to participate more directly in what we do, unifying humanity and empowering people all over the world to find true self-expression through music.


It’s amazing how many people have written to us expressing how much the “Songs Around the World” video series inspired them and made them want to get involved in our organization. Not only musicians and artists, but people from all walks of life would say “I watched your ‘Peace Through Music’ documentary and the ‘Songs Around the World’ series and was blown away… How do I become a part of this movement?!”
We created PFC Day as a way for these people to directly channel that passion, energy, and dedication into something that would truly make a difference– not just in their local communities but in underserved and remote populations all across the globe. The funds raised through people’s grassroots PFC Day events go to support the Playing For Change Foundation’s 9 music education programs throughout the world in Mali, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Nepal, and Thailand. The Day is a chance for people to engage with our cause in whatever way is most meaningful to them, be it playing a large-scale outdoor concert, a short acoustic performance in a coffee house, hula-hooping in their backyard, filming their own music video, teaching a benefit yoga class, hosting a bake sale, or busking on street corners or subway platforms (how this whole movement began!). The possibilities are truly endless and we’ve had the joy of seeing just how far so many thousands of people all over the world are willing to go for the cause. We’ve also had a pleasure of seeing it all GROW! Our first PFC Day in 2011 was a solid effort with 225 events in 41 countries, but last year we had over 300 events in 56 countries which raised over $150,000 to support music education programming worldwide and we have a good feeling this year is going to be our biggest and best yet!
One of the most rewarding parts of it is that we’ve also been able to extend our programmatic reach as a direct result of PFC Day. A few people in Bangkok, Thailand had organized their own PFC Day event back in 2011… as our correspondence continued to flourish and some of our friends happened to be out there for the event in September, soon enough we found ourselves working with those Thai contacts to establish the Khlong Toey Music Program, PFCF’s 9th official school. To this day it serves over 30 children every week and provides them with a safe haven away from drugs and gang activity in one of Bangkok’s most notorious slums. We’ve been able to forge even more connections and use PFC Day as a chance to connect students in U.S. schools to our own students in Africa or Asia, helping all of them understand what it’s like to be part of a global family.
Our PFC Day event creators are some of the most driven, inspiring people I’ve had the privilege of getting to know. Now that a number of them are in their second, third, or even fourth year of coordinating events, they’ve been able to recruit large groups of dedicated volunteers to support their efforts and they’ve shown what it means to be a true ambassador for the cause. I’m grateful for all the people who have reached out to us, offering a helping hand and an eagerness to make our movement grow. If you haven’t yet had the joy of participating in PFC Day, look for an event in your area or create your own at! See you all on September 20th.
Jeremy Elliott, PFC Day Coordinator

SCENES DE RUE: From the Streets to the Stage

This past Monday, conductor Philippe Fournier directed one of the most amazing benefit events for the Playing For Change Foundation in Lyon, France. In front of an audience of 2,700, a symphony orchestra of over 100 musicians united with Playing For Change musicians as well as an incredible diversity of other artists, dancers and singers, through the universal language of music.

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The concert is about to start. Outside the venue, a musician is playing guitar, busking in the cold. Hardly anyone notices him; they came to see a concert, a real concert. A few minutes pass and everyone is now sitting in a comfortable seat. When the curtain opens, the same seemingly invisible musician who was busking outside is now on stage with his guitar. A video appears on a wide screen behind him. There he is again, on the screen, playing in the subway! He and his virtual self begin playing Les Yeux Noirs together. After a minute or so of this virtual jam, a double bass player and a drummer show up on stage to join the party. Behind them, the symphony orchestra adds to the mixture of sounds. 130 musicians are now playing together with one man in the subway while 2,700 people remain captivated by the awesome sight and sound. The effect is powerful and the message quite clear: with music, barriers between us can only last for so long before powerful connection arises.

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Philippe Fournier, director of the show and conductor of the orchestra, has been removing barriers between people for over 25 years, working with superstars, classical musicians, and street musicians all over the globe. A few months ago, he contacted us to share his idea for this incredible project and his hope for Playing For Change to be involved in it. Just a few months later, Philippe transformed his vision into a reality!!

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Resulting in an especially compelling portion of the night, the orchestra played live with PFC videos “œStand By Me” and “United,” displayed on a screen behind them. During this performance, PFC Band musicians Clarence Bekker and Tula joined the orchestra on stage to sing their parts and improvise with the videos and the rest of the musicians.. The show ended with “United,” a Song Around The World composed by PFC Music Producer Enzo Buono and produced for the United Nation’™s 7 Billion Campaign. In the middle of the song, a choir of 100 people emerged, hidden amongst the audience, and began to sing along. They made their way up to the stage, joining the 150 musicians on stage for an indescribable moment of connection and harmony.

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It was truly impressive to see how one man, armed with a great deal of talent, passion and inspiration, was able to put together such an incredible show in support of the PFC Foundation’™s work to create positive change through music education. He not only directed over 200 musicians on stage with power and ease and inspired an audience of 2,700, but he also raised a great deal of awareness for the work of the Playing For Change Movement. We are greatly proud to have been part of this, and we hope that this show will take place again in the near future.

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Click here or on any photo to access the photo gallery.

Discover our Music School in Mali through Alou’s experience


Alou is a 16-year-old young man who studies kora at the music school. He is the grandson of the main chief of the village and has been attending the school since 2011. Like most of the inhabitants of Kirina, Alou is from a family of griots, who are traditionally the transmitters of oral stories and tales, and in most cases, are musicians. Alou has learned a lot about his roots and the traditional music linked to it, but has also been particularly interested in the English classes offered every week at the school by our administrator and teacher, Seydou Dembele. Alou now says that he wants to be an English teacher in the future.

There is no doubt he’ll become a great teacher, and now he’ll also be able to play some kora to his students!



Gugulethu Sings in honor of South African heroes


Gugulethu sings for a Better Place !

The students and teachers of the Ntonga Music School, in Gugulethu, South Africa, came together to compose and record a song inspired by the great heroes of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Myriam Makeeba – The Song is called “Strong” and gives a clear message on how we have to face life, whoever we are, wherever we come from.

The song has been composed and arranged by two of our elder students at the Ntonga Music School, Faith Nomungeka and Nonvuyo  and recorded at the school, with the participation of all  our students and staff.

The township of Gugulethu is located 20 kilometers from the city of Cape Town, South Africa. This is where the Playing for Change Foundation built its first music school in 2009. Like many of the townships formed during the government-imposed Apartheid that lasted from 1948 to 1994, Gugulethu is a community in need of assistance and inspiration. South Africans are still striving to repair the damage and injustice created during Apartheid, and the Ntonga Music School is setting a strong example of how the country can come together to create a brighter future for its people.
During the summer 2013, we were able to work for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals campaign by creating and directing social and musical initiatives in 4 different countries (South Africa, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia) to support musicians in their craft to help make this world a better place through music. In each country we identified musicians thanks to our contacts and travel experiences and gave them the opportunity to express themselves through music, by recording songs, organizing workshops, produce videos and educate the young generations. This song is the first release of a series of videos destined to demonstrate that music is a tool for positive change in this world.

One love

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News from Tintale village, Nepal !



After 5 years, it is clear that sustained music education is changing the lives of children and the village of Tintale in a remote mountain region of Nepal. Thank you for your role in making it happen!

Watch our new video and hear about the change first-hand from some people who have lived it:

Thanks to the amazing PFCF community, we can reach even more students. Two new rooms have been built to store instruments, provide space for music education, serve as a hub of activity for the Mother’s Society anti-trafficking education program , and house a cybercafé that will provide critical learning opportunities. Now, children who used to walk two hours each way to learn music will be able to do so in their own village.

The Tintale Village School under construction:

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We hope to expand this program, which teaches children harmonium, madal drums, and traditional dances, by at least 20 students. Will you give today to support the program or a Stand By Me student scholarship?

For only $100 per year, you can provide music to a child every week. Will you commit today to Stand By Them? For the perfect holiday gift with a lasting impact, consider a student scholarship in honor of a special person in your life, someone who has stood by you.

Join with others who are making a very significant investment in this community and its children. Please make a gift today so that more children can enjoy this new space and begin to realize their dreams.

One Love, Happy Holidays, and thanks for believing in the music!

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New Music & Sports Program in Kigali, Rwanda


The Playing For Change Foundation is establishing a new music program in Masaka, a village located 15km from capital, Kigali. For the first time, a PFCF program will officially include sports as one of the disciplines. Emmanuel, our young soccer teacher explains that sport is an ideal complement for the education of the kids. This new program will take place at Star School, a primary and secondary school founded a few years ago by Bishop Nathan Amooti in order to provide education to underprivileged children.

We are excited to partner with this amazing school and have the opportunity to introduce music to the students there. Like in many countries in Africa, music is part of daily life, and this was made clear by the students™ talent for singing, dancing and drumming before we even start our program. The idea of the music program is to help them to reach another level and focus on traditional music and dance. Our music teacher Samuel, is one of the best dancers and drummers in the country and has been touring around the world to represent the music and culture of Rwanda. Rwanda is a very special country when compared to other African countries: on the wall of Marjorie’s office (the Star School principal) a paper on the wall sums up the essential values of the nation. Number one : “Speed. A country in a hurry.” Rwanda is also the only African country I have visited where every person on a motorbike wears a helmet and each taxi driver asks you to fasten your seatbelt! Those two example might seem like unimportant details, but in reality they reveal a great deal about the current dynamic and the spirit of the country.

The recent history of Rwanda is absolutely unique. Since the genocide in 1994, which took nearly one million lives, the country is clearly trying to move forward as one and make a difference. This call for unity is why transmitting their ancestral cultural knowledge through music is very important. The music is an essential part of Rwanda’™s identity, and therefore, as we do in our music schools in Mali and Ghana, we are trying to value and support the preservation of the cultural traditions here. We at PFCF believe that understanding one’™s own roots and traditions is a great way to build a better future, adapted to a cultural context.

The program is officially starting in the next two weeks, so stay tuned to learn more about it!

Support the Playing For Change Foundation and help us continue making a difference for the young generations of this planet through music education.


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Solar panels in Kirina Mali

Kirina has recently experienced a tremendous change for the daily life of the community. The village has been offered more than 300 solar panels (photovoltaic panels) through the Malian government. The initiative is the result of the cooperation between the Chinese and the Malian governments. The village of Kirina has been chosen for this very special gift among thousands of villages in Mali. Many other villages in the country are also without electricity so we are thrilled to have been chosen among these other places.

The “streets” of the village are lit every evening until 1am and dozens of families now have light in their homes at night as every solar panel is connected to a battery, a converter and a power strip, which allows for the use of lamps, radios, or any other electric devices in their home. This gift has been received with the blessing of the community, and a great deal of work has been done to inform all the community members on how to use the installations properly. A group of people has also been trained on how to maintain the installations. The music school also received a panel, a battery and a converter, which will allow us to organize special events at the school and introduce electronic instruments to it in the future.


This is a tremendous change for the village, and we believe it is going to make for a more comfortable everyday life, even if Kirina, like many other villages in Africa, still needs better access to clean water, alphabetization and education. This is an ongoing struggle, and your support is the only way we can continue to bring positive change through music education to areas such as Kirina, Mali.














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African and Brazilian Music Workshop in Lisbon, Portugal

A few months ago we were approached by the organization of InArte – International Meetings of Inclusion through the Arts – which has been working for several years on the field of social integration through arts. Every year in Lisbon, Portugal, different seminars, performances and workshops designed to bring together artists, technicians, teachers, psychologists, students, and more are being organized in order to share experiences on the use of arts as a tool for social integration.

The idea was to organize a music workshop with two musicians based in Europe who have been involved with the Playing For Change movement and bring them to Lisbon for them to share their music, experience and knowledge.

Hugo Soares is a singer and songwriter born in Luanda, Angola, who currently lives in Barcelona after staying several years in Argentina and Brazil. Jefferson Otto, is one of the finest Brazilian drummers in Europe, and is also based in Barcelona, Spain. As both of them speak Portuguese and use to play together, there was no doubt they were the right team to conduct the music workshop in Lisbon. InArte put together a diverse group of 15 people to attend the workshop: a few homeless people from Angola and Brazil, some music students and and several music lovers with different backgrounds…

After a short and magistral presentation of Brazilian drumming and Angolan traditional songs, we decided to work on 3 different songs with the group. We had two days to get everybody to play together and perform for the closing of the festival. We decided to pick 3 songs: “Sodade,” famous traditional song from Cape Verde, popularized by Cesaria Evora; “Ainda” (one of Hugo Soares songs); and a traditional samba called “Eu vou botar teu nome na macumba,” by Zeca Pagodihno. Our group was formed of 4 or 5 percussionists, 5 singers, a piano, a bass, a guitar and even a flute. The process of creating music all together and being able to present the work that had been done was a really interesting musical and human experience. Every single person in the group had his own background, technical level, and sense of rhythm and melody, which was definitely the fun and exciting part of all this.



With this kind of music workshop, the Playing For Change Foundation is exploring a new field of action that is not limited to our existing music schools and programs. This is why we hope we’ll be able to organize more music workshops in the future and continue using music as a tool to create positive change.

One love,



The Power of Music


Music education creates powerful change.

A recent comprehensive evaluation of our programs shows evidence of success, and we are inspired by the positive feedback from program participants. We are pleased to share with you some of what we heard and observed: the change in action.

When you support the Playing For Change Foundation, you are making this kind of change possible for our students and the communities they live in. Thank you so much!

Here’s what the students we surveyed had to say about their experience in PFCF music programs:

PeacePhones results

The results are in. You did it !

Music education creates powerful change.

A recent comprehensive evaluation of PFC Foundation programs shows evidence of success, and we are inspired by the positive feedback from program participants. We are pleased to share with you some of what we heard and observed: the change in action.

When you support Playing For Change Foundation, you are making this kind of change possible for students around the world, and the communities they live in. Thank you so much!

Here’s what the students surveyed had to say about their experience in PFCF music programs:


See the change in action:










One love from Playing For Change and PFC Foundation!

Update from Tamale, Ghana, by Mohammed Alidu


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For the past two weeks, the students at the Bizung School of Music and Dance and I have been working on a new song. The name of the song is “Zanma Bahi Kan Chan Torani” and it is a traditional song that is accompanied by the Tora Dance.

We have been workshopping the piece to build it in an ensemble style. Traditionally it is played only with lunga and gungon but the children are now learning to adapt the chant and the rhythms to a melody for the xylophone, gonje and keyboards as well as developing supporting rhythms for kpanlogo, djembe and dundun drums along with the traditional lunga and gungon drums.

It is always important to understand the meaning of the music, and so this song simply means “Let go of me, I am going to dance Tora”. The story goes that there was a young girl who loved dancing and singing. One day she met a young boy on her way to dance. He began pulling her hand and she said to the boy, “Leave me alone! I am going to dance Tora.”

Bakissu Alhassan has been a student at the Bizung School since its opening. She has excelled in learning all of the disciplines at the school and has become a good leader. Despite losing her father in the Fall of last year and moving far away from the school, she has continued her music studies even though she must travel over 15miles each way to come to classes. Her dedication is remarkable. She shines in particular when playing the xylophone, dancing and singing. She has helped the whole class to understand the rhythms and melodies that I am teaching and has worked out a couple of xylophone melodies on her own!

Mohammed Alidu

Visiting Ntonga Music School In Gugulethu South Africa

Everything started with a photograph. In August 2006, the PFC crew touched down in Cape Town, South Africa, while recording the first chapter of the “Songs Around the World.” PFC co-founder, Mark Johnson, had something in mind: he wanted to meet with a musician called Pokie Klaas. For years he had a photo on his wall, showing musicians in the township of Gugulethu playing together. The photo mentioned Pokie Klaas’s name and we decided to find out if those musicians were still there. During our first day in Cape Town, we met some street musicians and asked them, “Do you know Pokie Klaas?” One of them answered, “Yes of course, Pokie is my friend.” 24 hours later, we were heading to the township of Gugulethu, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Cape Town, to meet with Pokie.

The afternoon spent in Pokie’s backyard recording him and his friends was one of the most incredible days in our lives, where we could see how music has the power to bring joy into the most desperate situations. After a few minutes of music in the backyard, everything had changed: people were now dancing and smiling, demonstrating the healing power of music. (Click here to watch a video we recorded that day.) Two years later, the first music school of the Playing For Change Foundation was built in this same backyard and today, the school is playing a significant role in bringing positive change to this area that the rest of the world seems to have forgotten.

I really have no words to describe my feelings six years after this unforgettable day; to see some of the kids playing music with such passion at the school and wanting to become professional musicians, to see our teachers and Pokie himself making a difference for their community through this music school.One of the most special days at the school during the last days of my recent visit was the workshop we organized on Congolese music, featuring Jason Tamba and Mermans Mosengo from the Playing For Change Band. The idea was to introduce Congolese music to the students of Gugs’ (this is how you say Gugulethu if you want to be cool!) and teach them some basics of this beautiful and powerful music. After five minutes, the “fire” was already in the house and Mermans and Jason were directing the students to play a Congolese tune on different instruments: drumset, bass, guitar, saxophones and even got our kids to sing in Lingala.After this moment of joy and jamming, Mermans and Jason sat on a chair and started to tell their story; how they left the Congo for South Africa more than ten years ago because of the war, and started to play a couple of acoustic songs to the captivated young audience.

The Ntonga Music School needs your support to grow and demonstrate that music can be the tool of a positive social change for underprivileged communities.


Playing for Change Foundation website

Join Ntonga Music school on Facebook

More photos of Ntonga Music School on Flickr

Music is the Key

Mohammed Alidu, founder of the of the PFCF music school in Tamale, Ghana, invites you to discover the school and its musical roots. Hear the sound of the instruments, meet with the kings of the Northern region of Ghana, and get a sneak preview of the first song around our music schools, recorded in Mali and Ghana.



Bizung School Students Perform Live Throughout Ghana, by Maria Sarah Sorentino

Bizung children are bringing their talents to their communities. Having performed at several events around Ghana, and been broadcast on live television, word on the Bizung school got out. Like traditional lunsi drummers and gonje fiddlers, they started getting invitations to provide the entertainment for nearby weddings and naming ceremonies.  Music forms a customary, indispensable part of all Dagbamba gatherings.
The past few months at Bizung school have since been busy, and children eagerly volunteer their free time on weekends to show their stuff.  Matrimonies are made much sweeter with the boys swirling Takai dance, the bumping girls™ Tora and the jive of Ga-originated Kpanlogo.  The students carry the drums and costumes from the school to the household hosting an occasion with pride and excitement, and they return, tired, with take-away rice as tokens of appreciation from their hosts.  It is the beginning of what for many will be their life-long callings as musicians. Lunsi and gonje musicians act as social mediators: proverbs and praise names embedded in these meaningful musical forms honor guests and their ancestors, neighbors dance adeptly to their admiration of their peers, and the community participates in profound cross-rhythmic communication. Movement builds mutuality and respect. This is certainly where a child can learn real life lessons, and it is also the one arena perhaps, where in strict and disciplined Dagbamba childhood, they are given positive attention and communal encouragement. Of all the places I have seen the children perform, it is undoubtedly here, in the recognizable context of their local communities, that their confidence and self-esteem, to put it simply, shines. Crowds comprised of their mothers, brothers, cousins and neighbors cheer them on with wonder and joy. After their first wedding, residents of the Jisonayli suburb of Northern Tamale were hooked to this added dimension of youthful exuberance to their soundscape.

Click here to view more photos from Sara-Maria’s Bizung Blog on flickr

Video Interview With Mahamadou and Seydou, Mali

In this interview, filmed in Kirina, Mali, in February 2012, Mahamadou and Seydou, director and administrator of our music school in Kirina, Mali. explain how the music school got started, and the impact of the music school on the community.


Interview with Mahamadou Diabaté and Seydou Dembelé, director and administrator of our music school in Kirina, Mali. from PlayingForChangeFoundation on Vimeo.

A week in Tamale, Ghana


Welcome to Tamale from PlayingForChangeFoundation on Vimeo.

September 11th, Accra airport, Ghana: My flight from Bamako, Mali, just landed in Accra. I’m supposed to meet with Abdul Rahman, director of the school, who is coming to pick me up. I’ve never met him before but he’ll be wearing a Playing For Change t-shirt so I can recognize him. After a brief glimpse at the people waiting in the arrival area of the airport, I see Abdul Rahman. He is smiling and says, “Welcome to Ghana,” during our very first hug. We have to jump on a propeller airplane to reach Tamale, where the school is located. The flight is going to be quick and safe.

Tamale looks like a very spread out city, with thousands of little houses covered with sheet-metal roofs. Ghana has the most dynamic economy in Africa, and Tamale has grown very fast over the few last years. The Bizung Music School opens every afternoon between Monday and Friday. Most of the kids are between 8 and 15 years old and attend classes in traditional music, dance, chant and keyboard. I can’t wait to meet everybody at the school! The goal of this trip is to maintain a close relationship between the Playing For Change Foundation and the people on the ground, but also to document the progress that has been made at the school since its opening last year.

If the students appear a little shy in front of the camera on the very first days, little by little they seem to forget that I’m filming and start to play the game. I also want to screen some videos for the kids; I’m editing a video on the road for them so they can see themselves on a big screen, but I also have a video message from the kids at the music school in Kirina to the kids in Tamale that I filmed while I was in Mali. The students from Mali are introducing their school to the kids in Tamale and ask them some questions through the video: “What language do you speak?” “What kind of music or instruments do you play ?”

Here is a link to this video message.There are only 850km (around 528 miles) between Kirina and Tamale; that’s why we hope that one day we’ll be able to create a cultural and musical exchange between the two schools. Kirina and Tamale have a lot in common and a lot to share, too.

This week in Tamale was absolutely beautiful. It has been very emotional to see the passion of our teachers at work and how talented and eager the students are to learn at the school. As words are not enough to share this experience and demonstrate the positive change currently happening in Tamale through this music school, here is a short video that will introduce you to the Bizung School of Music and Dance. You’ll see and hear the school’™s teachers and students playing and singing during the classes and also giving witness to the impact of this music school on their lives.


A Sad Day in Kirina

A Sad Day in Kirina: Youssoufou passed away.

youssoufou small

A couple of months ago we started a new program at the Kirina Music School: traditional history.

Our teacher was Youssoufou Kamissoko, a 90-year-old wise man who was a descendant of the founders of Kirina. He knew perfectly the long history of Kirina and the history of Mali in general. Every week he traveled to the music school to tell the history of Kirina, and of the Malian Empire to all the village. I say “all the village” because it was not only students from the music school that attended Youssoufou’s classes. Teachers from the public school attended; villagers– men and women eager to learn more about their deep roots attended. We filmed some of these classes in order to document his knowledge and some of the stories he told.

This morning Youssoufou passed away, and with him, a whole heritage has gone. As they say in Mali: “when an old man dies, a whole library disappears…” In a country where the life expectancy is 54 years, to live 90 years is a real accomplishment. I remember interviewing Youssoufou about the creation of the music school. From the beginning of the project, he had always been one of the most enthusiastic people in the village. He told me that he knew that the music school was going to have an international impact, and that in the near future students from other countries where going to come to Kirina to study music at the school.

We are doing our best to honor his words and his commitment for the transmission of African cultural knowledge at the school. Youssoufou, thank you from the bottom of our hearts: we’ll never forget you and you’ve been a true inspiration for the whole village, and for all the people involved in that project.


Click here to watch “Dreams of Kirina,” a beautiful episode we filmed with with Baaba Maal in Kirina, Mali.

Connect with PFCF’s Students in Gugulethu, SA

We are excited to announce that for the first time ever, Playing For Change Family members around the globe will have the opportunity to connect and interact with one of the Playing For Change Foundation’s schools!

Wednesday, November 17th 2010 from 10:00AM – 11:00AM EST you may participate in this global event at (link no longer available)

The Playing For Change Foundation is working to connect and expand its music education programs for the communities it serves using videoconferencing technologies (VSee) and social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter). This will be the first live connection between the Ntonga Music School in Gugulethu, South Africa, the Playing For Change Band in Boston, and the Playing For Change community, joining in online.

Spread the word, and join us at for this amazing event, that with your support will be the first of many more to come!

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:


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.


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.


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.


Dreams of Kirina


When we think about the role of dreams in our lives, they serve as both the places we go when we shut our eyes as well as the hopes and aspirations we hold for the future of our loved ones and ourselves. Playing For Change began as a dream to create something that could be full of positivity and inspiration for the human race. We have found that music is the greatest tool on earth for us to achieve our dreams of a better world for everyone. The village of Kirina, Mali is the heart and soul of this dream and a place with music at its core.

It is an ancient village with about 1,000 people, all of whom are descendents of musicians, many of them over 75 generations of musicians. They have no electricity, but enough soul to brighten all of us as we share this journey together. It is also the home of the newest Playing For Change Music School. When they heard the Playing For Change crew was coming to visit them to discuss the idea for the new school, they told us they had dreamed we would come, and they are prepared to be a part of the next chapter of our life’™s journey, and thus have titled the new school “The Playing For Life” Music school.

Last week we traveled with the Playing For Change team to Kirina with our brother and soul mate, Baaba Maal. He is a legendary singer in West Africa, and even he was humbled by the opportunity to visit the people of Kirina and meet the elders. He told us that he learned about Kirina growing up in school, but did not realize that it was a real place that still maintains their ancient traditions and culture. We traveled with 4 cars full of musicians and the Playing For Change Foundation crew and were greeted with open arms and songs from the villagers. We gave gifts to the elders and were granted permission for Baaba and friends to perform music for the village chief under the mango tree. I swear, if ever humanity has shined a light, it was on this day!! Baaba performed for all the people in Kirina and was joined by our friend and percussion master, Mohamadou Diabate. The elders from the village had donated land for us to build our new music school, and this day was an opportunity to celebrate the great future we all share together.

I ask everyone who believes in a better world for tomorrow to join us today to build our next great music and art school in the village of Kirina, Mali. Together, it is a dream that we can make come true, and we will always know that there is a place where music and inspiration are passed on from generation to generation for the betterment of all of humanity –“ Playing For Life!!!


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…

PFC Foundation School in Ghana

I recently returned from Tamale, Ghana with Mohammed Alidu (Playing For Change Band talking drum/djembe player), and the entire PFC family should be proud of the Playing For Change Foundation’s latest accomplishment–building a music and dance school in Tamale, Ghana. The trip was a great success, and we had a very productive time breaking ground on Playing For Change’s “Bizung School of Music and Dance” located in Tamale, Ghana. For those of you that don’t know, Tamale is located in northern Ghana (12-15 hour bus ride from the capital, Accra), and is only a 2 hour drive from Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Because of its close proximity to several other countries, Tamale is a melting pot of people, music and culture.  In addition, Tamale’s rich traditions are still deeply rooted in its society. The PFC school will have students from diverse backgrounds, and thus, once again, demonstrating how music transcends our differences and brings people together through music.

While I could spend pages discussing this amazing trip, and our accomplishments, I thought I would touch on some of the highlights, and attach photos (because, as all of you know, a picture truly is worth a thousand words).

As some of you know, Mohammed Alidu is from Tamale, and his family has been living in the area for over 1,000 years (Mohammed’s family, “Bizung”, are the talking drum chiefs for the Dagomba tribe). Upon arriving in Tamale, Mohammed and I where met by his best friend, and brother, Abraman. Abraman is an expert dancer (specializing in traditional dance), and has previously been invited to dance throughout Europe, and currently is the director for the Tamale Youth Home that teaches traditional dance. Currently, the Youth Home is the only location in all of Tamale where children can get together to learn and practice their dances. Abraman has also generously donated his time to be our “on the ground” point person for the building of the school.  Mohammed, Abraman and I drove to the proposed building site, and met with the builder for the project, also named Mohammed.  After we met with Mohammed at the school’s location (the land for the school was generously donated to the PFC Foundation by Mohammed Alidu), Abraman spread word throughout the community that we would be breaking ground on the school the following Monday (three days later). That Monday morning we had over 30 volunteers assist us with digging the foundation and pouring the concrete.  We also had several volunteers (Alidu’s mother and sisters) cook us our feast of rice, yams, and goat (the local delicacy of goat kebabs and goat’s head soup–very spicy and delicious). Because of the amount of volunteers, and their diligent work, we were able to complete the foundation in only one day. This task would ordinarily take a week to complete. One of the volunteers who came out that day is named Prince Mohamma.  Prince is an expert xylophone, keyboard/piano, guitar and bass player and has agreed to teach at the school.  Prince is blind (an incredible musician, but even more impressive person).

Needless to say, the community’s support for the school is astounding. Although Tamale is the third largest city in Ghana, and the largest in the northern region, there are little or no opportunities for the children to learn, and practice, their traditional song and dance. Accordingly, the PFC school will provide the children with such an opportunity. In addition, the children are extremely excited about the opportunity to learn western style music and incorporate these styles into their traditional music.

I think one story that really captures both the attitude and generosity of the people of Tamale involves the builder, Mohammed. Once Mohammed Alidu told the builder (Mohammed) what the PFC Foundation does, and why we are building the school in Tamale, the builder agreed to reduce his overall fee (only a couple hundred dollars in the US, but a significant amount in Northern Ghana) to help the Foundation build another school in another location (the “pay it forward” philosophy). There truly were countless selfless acts by the community of Tamnale, and the gratitude that the people have towards the Playing For Change Foundation is endless. The PFC Foundation’s music school in Tamale will not only provide the children a safe environment to learn music and dance but also will ensure that the children of Tamale will have with the opportunity to share their culture and music with other children from around the world. Most of the children have not heard of Nepal, but as a result of the school they will have an opportunity to not only learn about Nepal but also play music with the children of Tintale, Nepal (from Tamale to Tintale!!)

Please stay tuned for more updates on the progress of our music school in Tamale, and thanks again for all of your support!

Peace & One Love

Titi Tsira, Welcome to PFC!

I’d like to take a moment to officially welcome a new musician to the Playing For Change Movement: Titi Tsira. We first met this lovely young woman in Guguletu, South Africa, at a concert held to celebrate the opening of the Playing For Change Foundation’s Ntonga Music School in the Spring of 2009. As soon as we heard Titi’s voice, it was love at first sight– or, in this case, love at first sound.

She joined the PFC Band for an amazing performance at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, and then traveled with the band to New Orleans to perform again with us at Tipitina’s last Saturday.

We are very excited to add her beautiful voice to the Playing For Change Band’s global chorus. Though our Summer Tour just ended, we’re planning a Fall Tour which is going to be out of this world. I hope to see you at one of our shows soon, so you can enjoy Titi and the rest of the PFC Band live on stage– it’s an experience you won’t soon forget!