“The global unity in the Playing For Change concept is phenomenal.Collaboration in music is everything and this is the epitome of that.”
– Robbie Robertson
In honor of it’s 50th anniversary, Playing For Change has partnered with Cambria® to bring you The Weight, our newest Song Around The World, featuring Robbie Robertson of The Band. Released in 1968, the song was written by Robertson, and has since survived the decades as an uplifting and uniting classic, engrained in our global musical history. The Weight is a song that reminds us of our humanity, connects us in our individual struggles, and teaches us to be kind to one another. With lessons like these, we learn that we are one human race, connected through music, and that we are all alike in our hardships we face.
This Song Around The World is dedicated to The Band, with special thanks to its members; Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson.
To help us celebrate this monumental moment for The Weight, we recorded musicians from all over to share their weight with the world. The video features longtime greats like Ringo Starr and Robbie Robertson himself, PFC’s own Roberto Luti, Keiko Komaki, Mermans Mosengo, and Robin Moxey. Additionally, we’re thrilled to welcome both old and new faces alike, including John Cruz and Lukas Nelson.
The humble son of Willie Nelson, Lukas is a soulful and inspiring country artist as well as the latest musician to join us in the movement to bring peace through music. Recently, we met with him in Venice, CA to record this song.
While new to the movement, Lukas has continually done his part in breathing new life into timeless songs from our past. In collaborating with Playing For Change, he had this to say about the power of music and the people who listen:
“I’m honored to be a part of this community of good humans doing good things… music is a connecting force that spans cultures and brings them together .. may we continue to learn about each other through the rhythms and the notes we play.”
– Lukas Nelson
Great songs can travel everywhere bridging what divides us and inspiring us to see how easily we all get along when the music plays. Spanning 5 continents, this song is yet another example of the special connection we all share through music, and the seamless way in which we can unite across borders and barriers that stand between us.
Special thanks to our partner Cambria® for helping to make this possible and to Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr and all the musicians for joining us in celebrating 50 years of this classic song.
On June 11th, Playing For Change co-founders Whitney Kroenke and Mark Johnson accepted Sweden’s Polar Music Prize alongside hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash and German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm.
Polar Music Prize
Regarded as one of the foremost honors throughout the international music community, the Polar Music Prize is bestowed annually to influential individuals, artists, and organizations who break down musical boundaries and bring together people from all the different worlds of music. First awarded to Sir Paul McCartney in 1992, there have since been more than 50 laureates, including such greats as Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and many more. Laureates from a wide range of countries, cultures, and continents have received the Prize in Stockholm from the hand of His Majesty, King Carl XVI Gustaf.
According to the Polar Music website, the prize is “awarded for significant achievements in music and/or musical activity, or for achievements which are found to be of great potential importance for music or musical activity, and it shall be referable to all fields within or closely connected with music”. This qualification has taken many forms, from rewarding individuals for outstanding musical innovation, to acknowledging significant careers in music and performance within local, national, and global communities, as well as honoring those for their service to humanity in leading positive change through music.
Each year, the Polar Music Prize Committee organizes the event in coordination with Sweden’s Royal Family, hosting various live performances, onstage “Polar Talks” with each of the Laureates, a red (pink) carpet and banquet, award ceremony, and additional pre and post-ceremony celebrations.
In their acceptance speech for the Polar Music Prize, Whitney said:
“Everyone here knows the power of music. That it can not only heal, but motivate. That it can not only give opportunity, but lift us out of that which holds us down. We see it every single day in the work we do with Playing For Change. By using their culture, their community, and their own history to strengthen next generations and build success and happiness. All it takes is music. All it takes is one spark.”
To view their full acceptance speech, click below.
Playing For Change
For Whitney Kroenke and Mark Johnson, the honor of accepting the Polar Music Prize on behalf of the Playing For Change Movement cannot be understated. Yet, to them, the accomplishment goes far beyond their work as co-founders, and is a reflection of the worldwide support and appreciation that has fueled the organization for the past 15 plus, years. Playing For Change could not have become what it has without the generosity of thousands of musicians, the dedication from countless individuals and partners, and the belief from millions of human beings around the world that we are all connected through music.
In speaking with the co-founders about the Polar Music Prize award and ceremony, they had this to say.
Whitney: To have a music movement, a music project, honored alongside heroes of ours that inspired us and Playing For Change was really, really humbling…. to me it means that the “small” musicians are being seen and heard, and being recognized, and that is SO exciting because it means people are paying attention to each other!
Mark:I felt proud for all the people and communities who have worked so hard to support our project around the world and I was especially honored for PFC to be in the company of so many legends and musicians who have inspired us in so many ways.
Are there any notable past laureates that you are honored to share the stage with?
Mark: So many of my musical heroes are included, too many to list but my new favorite is Grandmaster Flash!
Whitney: YES!!! All of them! But I was especially blown away by being in the company of Bruce Springsteen—I’m a huge fan!
What does the Polar Music Prize mean to you?
Mark: During our first trip recording and filming street musicians in New Orleans back in 2001 we met a percussionist named R1 who told us “Music gets to the sentiment behind the words…” and I always loved that perspective of music as a window into something deeper. The Polar Prize is similar as they are recognizing the sentiment behind the process of making music and spreading music education. It explores a deeper understanding of where we are coming from and where we are going with Playing For Change.
Can you describe what took place at the ceremony in Sweden?
Whitney: It was incredible! First, we walked the Polar Prize “red (it was pink this year!) carpet outside the Grand Hotel. Upon entering, we were ushered to a room for private cocktails where we met the Swedish Royal Family. After the pre-ceremony cocktails, we were escorted into the theater, where we were seated in the front row along with Grandmaster Flash and Anne-Sophie Mutter (the other laureates). The awards ceremony took place, a video of our work was shown and then we accepted the award for PFCF on behalf of all of the musicians, staff, program coordinators, friends who have been a part of our work for the past 18 years. It was extremely emotional, and very surreal, to accept this award from the King of Sweden! And in a room filled with such a rapt, passionate audience.
As an organization dedicated to changing lives and connecting the world through music, how do you hope to double down on your mission following this international achievement?
Mark: Fortunately for us Playing For Change was always a combination of a big global idea combined with a mission to make deeper personal connections and focus on one person, one child at a time…This rhythm gives us a chance to expand what is working and continue to grow our project while also maintaining deep personal connections with everyone we meet along the way.
How will the Polar Music Prize award support the Playing For Change Foundation and organization as a whole in the years to come?
Whitney: Well, first of all, the cash award of 100K is going to be a massive help in sustaining our current programs. We are excited to put the award funds to work immediately to guarantee that the work we have been doing in each program will be continued through the next several years. We will also be using the international platform of the Polar Prize to leverage new relationships into expanding our reach globally.
To Mark and Whitney, thank you for your years of dedication to Playing For Change. To all those who love and support the Playing For Change Movement, thank you for helping to make their dream a reality for all of us.
PFC co-founder Mark Johnson was recently featured on the Inspired Money podcast with Andy Wang. Check out his interview below where he discusses how the playing For Change movement began, the power of music, and the amazing work the Playing For Chang Foundation is doing all over the world!
In a vast world brimming with genuine talent, Taimane Gardner is among the most remarkable and awe-inspiring performers to take on the ukulele, breathing life and energy into her music that can only be described as a true force of nature.
Receiving her name from the Samoan word for “Diamond,” Taimane is a Pacific Islander herself, born in Honolulu, Hawai’i to a Samoan mother and European-American father. In tune with her name and heritage, Taimane cannot help but shine in the spotlight, pursuing her passion for music and expression of sound to its fullest extent throughout her 15 year career. By the age of 5, Taimane was learning and practicing the foundations of the ukulele, but soon found herself reaching far beyond the instrument’s traditional capabilities by introducing a wide range of genre’s and play-styles that were fueled by her inner rockstar. As her talents grew, this young and inspired musician soon caught the attention of many well known ukulele masters, and at the age of 13, she was invited to join Don Ho as part of his show at the Waikiki Beachcomber. Through this opportunity, her investment in her music soon became intertwined with a new passion for performance, and just as her technical abilities would grow, so too would her powerful stage presence become an impressive facet to her music.
“With the fierceness of a rocker, and the grace of a dancer, Taimane and her music are wowing ever-larger audiences.”
From Bach to rock, flamenco infernos to tribal hymns, Taimane focuses her songwriting and performances on bringing feelings and visions to life. Sharing her music with fans across the world, Taimane continues to tour extensively throughout the Hawaiian Islands, still finding time to play shows in Australia, Germany, Japan, France, China, and mainland U.S. among other locations abroad. Three years after her first show with Don Ho, Taimane would debut her first album, Loco Princess, and has since completed four additional album’s, the most recent of which, Elemental, released in 2018.
On Elemental she celebrates the energy of each element with songs entitled water, fire, air, earth, and ether. Recognizing her connection to the strength and beauty of nature, she possesses a unique ability to translate the objects our environment into audible energy, with soft finger-plucking to mimic the repetitive sounds of flowing water or dark and densely rhythmic strumming to simulate the violent storms of Mercury. Coupled with this enigmatic approach to the ukulele, Taimane can also be found shredding through covers of AC/DC, System of a Down, and “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin.
Here is Taimane performing “Bodysurfing” at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California:
The vibrantly expressive nature of Taimane’s ukulele is in many ways a response to the limitations that were put on her as a young girl with a big dream. She wanted to disprove the assumptions of how a true ukulele virtuoso looked and sounded, and in doing so, she has expanded the possibilities of the instrument for a new generation of musicians to learn from. Yet, as a renowned composer, performer, and masterful musician, Taimane’s impression of her music is much more lighthearted.
“The ukulele, although maybe underestimated, can definitely blow some minds”
Run In With PFC
In August of last year, Taimane and the PFC team first met at a BBQ at Mark Johnson‘s house prior to her performance at The Mint later that night. Upon meeting, both parties found an immediate connection, and spent the evening eating, talking, singing and playing together until Taimane had to leave for her show. In the months following this introduction, we were able to coordinate two Live Outside performances with Taimane and her fellow musicians, Jasmine “Jazzy” Skurtu (guitar), Windy Weather (violin), and Jonathan Heraux (percussion).
Here is their performance of “The Moon,” filmed in Kualoa Ranch, Oahu:
Taimane also has a history of playing with other PFC favorites, Jack Johnson, John Cruz, Paula Fuga,and Lopaka Colon Jr., all featured in our Songs Across Hawai’i series. While truly dedicated to her local Hawaiian community, Taimane’s talents have certainly not gone unnoticed, as she is currently on the Grammy ballot seeking a nomination for Best World Music Album. Heading into the future, Taimane will be releasing two new music videos later this year from her Elemental album, as well as a new song about her love of Yoga. She will also be writing and recording three songs for an indie feature-film being shot in Hawai’i in 2019, and is preparing for tour dates in the U.S., Israel, and Europe for the coming year. To learn more about her upcoming projects, please visit her website here.
“This song was co-written by Mermans Mosengo and my brother, Greg Johnson, a few years ago while we were on tour with the PFC Band. The simple message and anthemic chorus made me really excited to record it as a PFC Song Around The World. We started under the hot African sun in the village of Lukala in the Congo and we added musicians wherever we traveled for the past few years until we finally added the final piece with Grandpa Elliott playing the harmonica solo in New Orleans. Someday we’ll all be free, until then, music is our ammunition.”
It has been twelve years since the Playing For Change crew and Afro Fiesta first crossed paths in Cape Town, South Africa in 2006. Although the band’s roots are drawn from many different regions and nations throughout the world, the heart of their heritage lies in the Congo, where Jason Tamba and Mermans Mosengo of the PFC Band both grew up.
Both men have been committed to a life full of music from an early age. With decades of experience and performance now behind them, they speak the language of music just as well as any of the other languages in their arsenal, all of which are utilized in Afro Fiesta’s variety of songs. Yet, within this arsenal of creative ability, the band moves on the offensive, using Music as their Ammunition. Having great pride in their country, Jason and Mermans sing of the pain in their nation’s past, the beauty in its people, and the dreams they have for a free world.
Playing together for years has helped the two PFC musicians develop a special chemistry that is present whether they are performing in a 12-member band or just jamming out with each other. Their ever-present sound draws equally from both band mates where some songs partner Jason’s melodic French/English/Lingala lyrics with Mermans’ skill in percussion, while others rely on Mermans’ dense and deep vibrato and sharp strumming, backed by Jason’s rhythmic guitar and gentle vocals. The genre’s they draw from are a mix of Roots Reggae, Makossa, and Congolese rumba, with Latin and Rasta influence as well.
In tune with our most recent release, Afro Fiesta’s “Congo To The Mississippi” harnesses nearly all of these harmonious characteristics into one song, taking listeners on an audiovisual journey from the Congo and onward, all in pursuit of people living free.
In their own words:
Jason tells us a wonderful story of how he built his first guitar:
Mermans ‘Mo Faya’ Mosengo
Mermans sharing some truth about the Congo’s past and the meaning behind “Music is my Ammunition”:
Quote of the Day
“When the fans listen to our music they will feel hope. The struggle continues, ‘a lutta continua a Victoria e serta’ fighting alone will get you tired but fighting in a group will get you into a rhythm. I want my people to know we are together in the fight for the Congo.”
Mermans Mosengo, Afro Fiesta
Photo of the Day
Afro Fiesta is just one of the many bands in the world finding new ways to fight war, pain, and poverty. Why fight fire with fire when you’ve got an abundance of love to share? Just as Jason and Mermans are willing to step forward and lead in the push for peace through music, so too will there be those willing to join them and play by their side. From the Congo to the Mississippi, an endless array of people, cultures, and countries exist, each bearing their own unique languages, customs, and borders. Our greatest tool to connect this world is music, “because music goes where people cannot go, music goes” (Mermans Mosengo).
Thank you to Jason Tamba, Mermans Mosengo, Greg Johnson, and every PFC musician and supporter out there!
On June 1st, Playing For Change posted the music video to “Natural Mystic/Just A Little Bit”, making it the sixth song from Listen To The Music to be released in video. While the video is just under 5 minutes long, this collaboration is actually 5 years in the making, and spans 6 different countries, featuring 16 different artists. Whether you haven’t seen the release yet, or you’ve been watching it on repeat for the past two weeks, it’s always worth the watch, check it out below.
This collaboration shows two sides of the same world:
“The original idea for this Bob Marley Song Around The World was born back in 2013 when the PFC crew first visited the Congo. Mark asked himself, ‘How can we live in a world that allows people to live like this, with virtually no food, no money, and no hope?’ The lyric, ‘Things are not the way they used to be…one and all got to face reality’ came to mind as he looked out into the river of garbage running through the city. ‘Natural Mystic always felt so deep in its groove and lyrics and it seemed as important and urgent as what I was seeing all around me,'” says Mark.
We need to rise up and make the planet a better place right now for ourselves, our children, and all living things. ‘Just a Little Bit’ written and performed by Paula Fuga was added as a medley to ‘Natural Mystic’ to take the music from minor key to the major key—from the darkness to the light.”
The musicians featured in this video come from all over the world, like drummer Courtney “Bam” Diedrick from Jamaica and ATD Horns from Burkina Faso, to Lee Oskar in Seattle, Washington and Yu Hatakeyama from Tokyo, Japan. Despite every conceivable difference that separates each of these performers, this video has been made possible by the one unique commonality shared by all people. They all share the internal resonance that is music.
Along with new artists to the PFC family like Donald Kinsey, Mike Love, and Irie Love, “Natural Mystic/Just A Little Bit” was made possible with the help of a few familiar faces as well, including Jason Tamba, Mermans Mosengo, and Roberto Luti, all of the PFC Band. Currently, the band is just coming off an amazing adventure in Colorado, USA, where they played four shows from Colorado Springs, to Denver, and a two-day stay at Vail for the GoPro Mountain Games Festival. Beyond the band, past PFC collaborators like Jack Johnson, Paula Fuga, and even Washboard Chaz all make heartwarming appearances in another video once again, showing their remarkable talent and continued support of the movement.
If you didn’t already know, Paula’s performance on “Natural Mystic/Just A Little Bit” is an extra-special collaboration, as it unites Bob Marley’s 1977 song with her own original composition. Written for her two nieces, “Just A Little Bit” is a beautiful melody that encourages strength, perseverance, and just a little bit more joy throughout all the hardship in life. Where “Natural Mystic” acknowledges the pain, suffering, and the truth that is bound to come, Paula gives us the will to carry on just a little bit longer.
Last featured in Island Style – ‘Oiwi E, Song Across Hawai’i, Paula is a cherished singer/songwriter and ukulele player, praised for her soulful and honest vocals, as well as her commitment to her community and culture. Growing up in a difficult environment surrounded by the wrong influences, Paula recognized the value of her role models, particularly her grandparents, and has taken it upon herself to use her talents and her spirit to reach out to those in need.
“Fuga relentlessly strives to inspire youth across the world, sharing her story of perseverance and hope. She makes countless efforts to participate in various community projects focusing on protecting the environment and spreading the fundamental values of her native Hawaiian culture. Fuga is an artist on a mission and music is her vehicle.“
Whether she’s playing at Madison Square Garden, the White House, or a beach in Hilo, Paula’s purpose is the same—to uplift her community, cherish her culture, and enjoy every minute of it. Paula’s story is certainly that of a woman on a mission to connect the world through music, and we are honored to have shared in this collaboration with her, as well as with every other musician that makes this movement possible.
As the Summer rolls on, be on the lookout for our next release, Rasta Children, coming early this July. Along with each Summer release, we will continue to post more artist spotlight blogs such as this one to show our appreciation for the voices behind the music, and the people behind the movement.
Quote of the Day:
“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.”
Fan Photo of the Day: Special thank you to @hershe_june for this wonderful ‘Chaz’ inspired artwork. Click the link for similar drawings.
Throwback Video of the Day:
Finally, check out this video of the PFC Band playing live back in 2012.
Playing For Change