Playing For Change Receives 2019 Polar Music Prize

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.

One Love,

The Playing For Change Team

Playing For Change featured on Inspired Money Podcast

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!

 

Learn more at www.inspiredmoney.fm/086

50th Anniversary of (Sittin’On) The Dock of the Bay | Otis Redding

In the 50 years since its release, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” has become a timeless classic of Otis Redding‘s and a permanent landmark in our world’s musical history. By the age of 26, his music had reached the heights of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, and touched the ears of millions of listeners from across the world. Despite his passing at an early age, Otis Redding left a legacy of music that will continue to span the generations as songs like “Dock of the Bay” retain their relevant nature and timeless touch.


Background

As a young artist, Otis Redding was already bursting with talent. He began as a gospel singer in the Vineville Baptist Church choir where he also picked up the guitar and the piano, and later, drums. By age 10, he found weekly employment singing on WIBB radio in  Macon, Georgia, and later, compete in a radio talent show called, “The Teenage Party,” which he would go on to win 15-consecutive times. Having left school at a young age to support his family, Otis Redding‘s future was now beginning to reveal itself, and upon leaving his home in Georgia, he and his sister, Deborah, would make the move out to Los Angeles where he could officially begin his career.

It did not take long before Otis found his rhythm, first through his recordings of popular ballads, and later by writing, recording, and performing his own songs. Some of his greatest work includes, “These Arms of Mine,” “Try A Little Tenderness,” “Respect” (yes, that Respect), “Mr. Pitiful,” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” At the height of his career, “Dock of the Bay” would become Otis Redding‘s most successful song, with its final version recorded just days before his untimely death at the age of 26. “Dock of the Bay” marked a transition in Otis’ career that was highlighted by his masterful expression of soul, coupled with the gentle despair of the blues. Throughout his career, Otis Redding maintained an articulate simplicity in his songwriting, filling the space with just as many words as emotions, once saying:

“There is beauty in simplicity whether you are talking about architecture, art or music.”

-Otis Redding


50th Anniversary

At Playing For Change, our appreciation for the work of Otis Redding goes back to the very beginning with Roger Ridley‘s unforgettable performances of “Stand By Me” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” In honor of his influence within our organization, and in light of the impact his legacy has had on connecting the world through music, we partnered with the Otis Redding Foundation and Princess Cruises to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Dock of the Bay” with its very own Song Around The World. Featuring artists Jack Johnson, Corinne Bailey Rae, Aloe Blacc, Otis Redding III, Dexter Redding, Otis Redding Foundation Students, and more; this video takes you from the San Francisco Bay to the streets of Barcelona to the seas of Jamaica and beyond.

“This was such a wonderful way to celebrate 50 years of ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,’ and certainly an appropriate and heartwarming way to honor and remember the legacy of my husband.”

-Zelma Redding, President of Otis Redding Foundation


Peace Through Music

With special thanks to all those who participated in the 50th anniversary tribute to Otis Redding‘s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,”  we are proud to announce that the proceeds from this video will benefit the Otis Redding Foundation and the Playing For Change Foundation. Both organizations support youth empowerment through music education, and further our mutual dream to bring peace through music.

One Love,

Playing For Change

PFC Artist Spotlight | Larkin Poe

Larkin Poe, a sister duo raised in Atlanta and based out of Nashville, are a rising southern roots and rock group that has a bit more connection to their roots than you’d expect. Receiving their name in honor of their great-great-great grandfather, Larkin Poe, cousin of Edgar Allen Poe, both Rebecca and Megan Lovell are carrying on the family legacy of artistry, one stunned crowd at a time.


Background

Boasting their strong southern harmonies, gritty guitar riffs, and endlessly rhythmic vocals, Larkin Poe have developed their personal brand of blues throughout countless collaborations with premier musicians, ranging from Elvis Costello to Gary Clark Jr.Keith Urban and even Steven Tyler. Beginning their career as teenagers in 2005, the girls had formed a trio with their third sister, Jessica, calling themselves The Lovell Sisters. For four years, the sisters toured, wrote new music, performed at festivals like Bonnaroo, and self-released two albums of their own, all while honing their talents and refining their abilities. When the trio disbanded in 2009, Rebecca and Megan joined together to form Larkin Poe, and since then, have developed a masterful wheelhouse of old blues ballads and their own new-age Americana sound.

      

During their first three years as a duo, Larkin Poe released five independent projects and two collaboration albums. In 2013, the sisters managed to sign their first record deal with RH music, and immediately began their first full-length album, Kin. Following its release, the pair went back on the road, making appearances at Lollapalooza, Glastonbury (twice), and another stop in at Bonnaroo. In 2016, Larkin Poe contributed to Steven Tyler’s solo debut album, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, and just last year, they were invited to perform with Don Henley and Jackson Browne at the Tom Petty Tribute performance in Los Angeles. Along the way, Larkin Poe has managed to release three additional albums, with their latest arriving just last week, November 9th, titled, Venom and Faith.


“Larkin Poe are not only highly professional, nearly perfect musicians, they also manage to add a new passion, modernity, and elegant coolness to the genre of Rock.”

– Vogue


Run In With PFC

We first heard about Larkin Poe through our friendship and collaboration with Robbie Robertson of The Band and his son Sebastian. They are both fans of Larkin Poe and once we checked them out, we too became fans for life. We were able to meet up with the sisters in Venice Beach, California, to record them performing a Live Outside rendition of Robert Johnson’s, “Come On in My Kitchen,” which was also featured on their 2017 album, Peach:

“We’re two southern sisters: born in Tennessee, raised in Georgia. Having grown up in the south, the blues has always been a huge part of our musical upbringing. In the past few years, we’ve been inspired to strip it back to our roots and pay tribute to the music that raised us… And “Come On in My Kitchen” was one of the first blues tunes we ever learned how to play.” – Larkin Poe


Tour

Currently, Larkin Poe is in the midst of a tumultuous tour with tickets still available for shows throughout the U.S. and Canada, U.K., Germany, Italy, Spain, and Australia among many more locations worldwide. They will be traveling throughout spring, with shows booked until the end of April, and their full tour schedule and ticket locations are available on their PFC musician profile.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with such an inspiring and impressive pair as Larkin Poe, and are excited to see what more will come from the soulful southern sisters.

One Love,

Playing For Change

PFC Artist Spotlight | Taimane

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.


Beginnings

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.” 

Taimane, Bio


Career

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”

-Taimane, TEDxMaui


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:


Looking Forward

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.

One Love,

Playing For Change

Ahoulaguine Akaline | Exiled Electric Extremism

 

“I do not see my guitar as a gun but rather as a hammer with which to help build the house of the Tuareg people.”

With over 1400 years of deeply rooted historical and cultural context in a single song, “Ahoulaguine Akaline” comes from a different breed of rebel rockers. Kel Tamasheq, known commonly as the Tuareg people, are an ancient society of nomads and herdsmen that exist across the Western Sahara desert, spread into regions of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Libya and Algeria. For the Tuareg, the desert has always been their home, but this home has come at a great cost to its people. Throughout the 19th century, colonial imposition cut borders across the Sahara desert, dividing the Tuareg into any of these five neighboring nations. Due to the Tuareg’s powerful resistance of French control, their governance and territory was overwritten by colonial rule, while other less threatening nations arose in cooperation with European expansion. From this division came even more violence as the Tuareg community clashed with their new hosts and governments. Yet, as these nations fought for control over the region, so too did the Tuareg continue their fight for autonomy, seeking independence from the powers that they never wished to be a part of.

In this endless rebellion, death, discrimination, and exile had become all too common for the Tuareg people. So, in hopes of returning to an era of peace, many veterans of the rebellion have put down their guns in exchange for guitars, taking to music to celebrate their life, culture, and to bring about an end to this century-old struggle.


Bombino

One such rebel who has gained international recognition for his remarkable talent and career is Omar “Bombino” Moctar. Born in Niger in 1980, Bombino is a Tuareg rock ‘n’ rebel who learned guitar at a young age, citing Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler as his greatest influences. Dubbed, “The Sultan of Shred,” Bombino has long been recognized as one of the world’s most talented guitarists, but while his career has gained considerable attraction in recent years, his home life has been all but predictable. In the early 90’s, Bombino’s family was forced to flee to Algeria to escape conflict that arose against the Tuareg. It was during this exile that Bombino was first introduced to the guitar, and years later upon his return to Niger, he would join a band where he first received the nickname, “Bombino,” which is a variation of the italian word for, “little child.”

Despite returning home, building his career and shaping his path, Bombino was forced into exile once again when Tuareg rebels clashed with the Nigerien government in 2007. Along with Tuareg soldiers, the government also labeled Tuareg guitarists as enemy’s of the state, due in large part to their rebellious lyrics and opposition of Nigerien control.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Bombino would return to his hometown of Agadez. In celebration of the peace treaty between the government and the Tuareg, Bombino was granted permission by the Sultan of Agadez to host a live performance in the center of town, an event that would have been unthinkable just a few years prior.


Ahoulaguine Akaline

The title of this song translates to, “I greet my country,” and it was originally written by another Tuareg rebel, Intayaden, and was later re-imagined by Bombino on his album, Agadez. Though simple in structure, it is in its simplicity that it captures the powerful sentiment of pain and sorrow felt by Bombino, the Tuareg, and all those who understand the context in which it is being sung. Truly, “Ahoulaguine Akaline” is an acknowledgment of the hardship endured by all Kel Tamasheq, but its purpose lies in its ability to connect the people of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Libya, and Algeria together through its music.

“I greet my country where I left my parents
I greet my country
I greet my country where I left my love
I greet my country
I greet my country where I left my community
I greet my country
You know that I am suffering from it
I greet my country”

In collaboration with Playing For Change, “Ahoulaguine Akaline” is the embodiment of our mission to connect the world through music, and this song, in particular, shows us the power of a single song to unite those separated by borders. In the words of PFC co-founder, Mark Johnson, “The unity of musicians around the world playing on this song is a statement that music is part of the foundation from which we rebuild our humanity and our world together”. With thanks to Bombino, the PFC team, and the many musicians who made this newest release possible, please enjoy our rendition of “Ahoulaguine Akaline,” featuring the world.


Quote of the Day:

“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”

Jimi Hendrix


Video of the Day:

This video is from Bombino’s 2010 return to Agadez, mentioned above.


Photo of the Day:

Mark Johnson pictured with Bombino in Los Angeles, July 17th.

One Love,

Playing For Change

Just A Little Bit more… | A Closer Look At The Artists Behind PFC’s Latest Release

A Long Awaited Collaboration

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 KinseyMike 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 TambaMermans 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 JohnsonPaula Fuga, and even Washboard Chaz all make heartwarming appearances in another video once again, showing their remarkable talent and continued support of the movement.


Paula Fuga

Image result for paula fuga

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.


The Update:

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.”

-Elton John

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.

One Love,

Playing For Change