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Playing For Change Brings The World Together

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, November 2, 2009

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When Mark Johnson launched his Playing For Change multimedia musical project, he wasn’t thinking about making it a global phenomenon.

“I don’t think we ever made it with any gauge of anything besides just impacting any individual,” says Johnson, 35. “The goal of this was just to inspire people.”

It’s done that to a greater degree than he ever anticipated. Playing For Change, which mixes performances by street performers from around the world and a handful of guest professionals — including U2 frontman Bono, Keb’ Mo’, Manu Chao and, via tape, the late Bob Marley. A recording of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” has been viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube, is the subject of a PBS documentary and scored Johnson a Person Of The Week profile on “ABC Nighty News.”

The CD/DVD package “Playing For Change: Songs Around the World” has been similarly well received, and some of the individual artists are putting out their own recordings — including New Orleans singer and harmonica player Grandpa Elliott (né Small), whose “Sugar Sweet” is just out. A feature film documentary also is underway.

Funds raised by Playing For Change have so far built three schools in Africa and Nepal, with a fourth under way in Mali. They all include video technology that allows them to communicate with the other schools the foundation is building.

“There’s no limitations with this ’cause there’s so many diverse cultures and musical styles to tap into,” says Johnson, who co-produces the Playing For Change albums and video projects. “I never got into this to make money; I got into this to follow my heart. One of my friends had called me awhile back and said, ‘You don’t have any money, but you’re one of the wealthiest people I know.’

“It’s like fuel to be part of something like this. We’re impacting so many people ... and the success we’re having allows us to impact so many more.”

The Playing For Change Band performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 3) at the Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $40. Call (734) 761-1451 or visit www.theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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