In April, the members of the Playing For Change Band made their 6th appearance at the Byron Bay Bluesfest in Australia. This was the festival’s 30th year anniversary, and it featured a lineup of renowned world musicians such as Iggy Pop, Norah Jones, George Clinton, Mavis Staples, and Gary Clark Jr., as well as some PFC favorites like Jack Johnson, Keb’ Mo’, and Larkin Poe.
Byron Bay Bluesfest
From humble beginnings, the Byron Bay Bluesfest has grown to become one of the world’s largest venues for live blues music. The festival has attracted international attention by featuring some of the biggest names in music, routinely drawing in global audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
In the past, Bluesfest has been headlined by the likes of Bob Dylan, BB King, John Mayer, John Legend, Angélique Kidjo, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and many more outstanding artists. It has also led rise to the annual Boomerang Festival, a ground-breaking Indigenous arts festival for all Australians featuring an array of music, dance, theatre, comedy, and film, all to celebrate the heritage of first nations people.
As the Byron Bay Bluesfest continues to grow, its yearly celebrations of music, culture, and community have grown far beyond their blues, jazz, and roots beginnings, becoming a world stage home to Australia.
Playing For Change Band
For the past 6 years, the PFC Band has been honored to connect with international audiences on one of Australia’s greatest stages. Although the band has seen many new faces and friends throughout the years, the mission to “connect the world through music” has always remained the same.
With Titi and Tula, Mermans and Tamba, Keiko, Roberto, Robin, Chantz, and more, the band was in full swing by the time they arrived in Byron Bay, having just played together in Bahrain a few weeks prior. They also managed to play a second show while in Sydney that same weekend, sharing the music with as many people as they could.
At the heart and soul of the PFC Band, we were overjoyed to see Grandpa Elliott make his way down under, gracing the Australian audiences with his profound bellowing voice and uplifting harmonica chimes.
In anticipation for the band’s 6th appearance at the Byron Bay Bluesfest, organizers wrote:
“Playing for Change is back to share their powerful live performance with everyone at Bluesfest this Easter 2019. The unique fusion of influences and music from more than seven countries allows for an extremely special performance. United in purpose and in chorus, everyone is touched by music’s unifying power!“
With decades of experience to show for it, Vasti Jackson‘s love and admiration for the blues is undeniable. Throughout his vast career, he has shown himself to be a true “Bard of the Blues,” telling stories of the genre’s roots, teaching audiences about the struggle from which the blues was born, and carrying on the soulful tradition for new generations to grab a hold of.
Born in McComb, Mississippi, Vasti Jackson was bound to be indoctrinated into the blues. First by family, and then through his surroundings, he gained invaluable experience growing up surrounded by the influence of the Delta blues. With a strong attraction to the guitar, Vasti began performing at local churches and juke joints while studying music at Jackson State University. As his artistry developed, Vasti was employed as a session musician working for various labels until he was named musical director for the television show, Blues Goin’ On. Throughout this period, he continued to perfect his craft, moving effortlessly from blues to soul to jazz to funk to gospel to pop, and more.
The early 90’s is where Vasti would find his rhythm, writing many songs from his life, releasing his debut album Vas-Tie Jackson, and partaking in recordings with other notable musicians such as B.B. King. In 2012, Vasti was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, forever leaving his mark on the Mississippi Delta Blues.
“As an artist, Vastiis known for sweat-drenched, soul-ripping performances marked by some of the most stunning and innovative guitar playing in Blues today. Vasti’s talent has been enlarged by an amazing array of musical experiences over 35 years of his vibrant career. Jackson’s Recordings “No Borders to the Blues”, “Live In Nashville” and “Mississippi Burner” present audio buffet of Vasti’s limitless energy and boundless imagination. It spotlights his talents as singer, and composer, and his utterly thrilling guitar mastery.”
Wherever he goes, the blues seems to follow, and wherever the blues are, you’re sure to find Vasti.
Career with PFC
For more than 5 years, Vasti Jackson has been involved with the Playing For Change Movement, first through live performances with the PFC Band, and eventually joining in a few Songs Around The World as well. With his wealth of knowledge and boundless musical talent, his contributions to Playing For Change have impacted the lives of thousands of supporters, as well as students from across the world.
Recently, Vasti traveled to the Saharan Desert with the PFC Foundation to visit the Joudour Sahara Music Program. Meeting with local musicians from the M’Hamid el Ghizlane region of southern Morocco, Vasti and Maya Kyles, a young drummer also from Mississippi, taught lessons and performed together, working to find the connection between blues from the two continents.
When he isn’t traveling the world, VastiJackson continues to educate audiences on the history of the blues and African culture in America. From January 29th through February 10th, Vasti served as musical director and a performer in the Marcus Gardley story, “Hell in High Water.” This play relives the account of the Great Flood of 1927. Set in Greenville, this story follows the social, economic, and political realities of an entire city of people who are subject to the powerful will of the Mississippi River.
Along with his fellow cast mates, Vasti recently hosted a PFC live stream while on set:
As a musician who continuously pushes himself beyond borders, across cultures, and into the lives of new world audiences, Vasti Jackson is the embodiment of our mission to connect the world through music. We look forward to reuniting with him again soon, and encourage you to keep your eye on Vasti.
“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!
“One evening, a few years ago in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the PFC crew and I were waiting for an 80-year-old cuica player to perform on a Song Around The World. I remember it seemed to take forever for him to make it down the hill, as he would stop off in every bar along the way for a drink and some conversation. As we waited I looked and saw a Rastaman walking across the street with his acoustic guitar in hand. I waved to him and he came over to see what we were doing with all our equipment. I told him about Playing For Change and he agreed to play a song for us while we were waiting. The result was an incredible, spontaneous performance of Dennis Brown’s ‘Rasta Children.’ His voice reminded me of Peter Tosh and he sang with so much soul that we realized this could be an amazing Song Around The World. Just one man and his guitar playing on the street set the tone for this song and we added a worldwide band of roots musicians around him. ‘I and I deal with humanity…'”
– Mark Johnson, PFC Co-Founder
Rasta Children’s Roots
“Rasta Children” was released in 1979 by Dennis Brown, who was known as The Crown Prince of Reggae. One of Bob Marley’s favorite singers, Brown led a prolific career having recorded more than 75 albums throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. It was actually in Brazil where his journey would end—falling ill with pneumonia in 1999 and dying of a collapsed lung days later. Yet, while his physical journey on this earth would come to a close, his musical legacy continues to live on years later thanks to a chance encounter in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.
With help from 16 different musicians across 6 different countries, PFC’s rendition of “Rasta Children” is a beautiful melting pot of talent. Of course, the Rastaman mentioned above is Paulo César “da Luz” Pereira, whom we met back in 2011. As he was the true inspiration for this Song Around The World, we are lucky considering all of the forces that allowed our paths to cross. Had it not been for the popularity of the 80-year-old cuica player, we may never have been able to capture such an organic and truly special performance, nor could we have gone on to share it with musicians and supporters around the world.
This meeting shows us the beauty in the world just waiting to be discovered, and the chance encounters that bring these moments to reality. One such story is that of another musician in this collaboration, Brushy One String, who began his career many years ago as a street musician in Jamaica. With an uncanny similarity to PFC’s earliest beginnings, a filmmaker named Luciano Blotta was leaving a Jamaican recording studio when he noticed a man on the corner playing an old acoustic guitar with only one string. After recording his song, “Chicken in the Corn,” Blotta left Jamaica only to find the video blow up on the internet with thousands of people suddenly showing their love and support for Brushy. Since then, he has led a full career performing in places like France, Argentina, Japan, and the U.S., while continuing to play throughout Jamaica. It seemed only fitting, then, that Brushy join with PFC to record “Rasta Children” in his hometown of Ocho Rios, and continue to promote a life dedicated to peace and unity through music:
“If we can change the words and melodies and bring back the love, we can have a balance between God and man,” Brushy reflects. “That’s what we need to put the world together.”
Very much in frequency with Rasta Children’s nature sits Nattali Rize, a roots-rock-and-reggae rebel queen who has earned international fame as a singer/songwriter and social activist. Beginning as a street percussionist in Byron Bay, Australia, her career has grown through her dedication to an urban roots collective, Blue King Brown, and on to building her own band, changing her name from Natalie Pa’apa’a to Nattali Rize to reflect Bob Marley’s lyrics for “Rise Up.” With an emboldened attitude, Nattali Rize’s performances are praised for their, “epic, high energy, thought-provoking and uplifting live performances,” (Nattali Rize). Another featured musician in “Rasta Children” that deserves just as much credit to the success of Nattali Rize is Carlo Santone, a bandmate, manager, and partner of Nattali’s, who has worked with her since 2004.
Currently, Nattali Rize is just coming off a West Coast California tour, and will continue performing her latest album, Rebel Frequency, throughout France until the end of August. The full album is available by following the link above, and it boasts just as much of its Rastafarian roots while blending her own New-Era style and humanitarian message.
“Never forget, we are one human family and no one, man or woman or child, is illegal. We are the pioneers of a paradigm change and creators of a new world!”
We are introducing a new feature on the Playing For Change website. Now on musician pages, along with photos, featured videos, and related links and musician accounts, we will also be promoting individual tours and shows happening around the world. You can view our entire musician tour schedule by following the musician tour dates link above, as well as access individual events by searching for your favorite artists’ PFC page.
While this is an ongoing process, you can expect more tour information to be uploaded and updated regularly as we are always collecting new and amazing musicians. One of our longtime friends, Roberto Luti, will be performing in Denmark with Luke Winslow-King this August. Find more information about these events by following the link provided.