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Mike Ragogna

Mike Ragogna

Posted January 19, 2009 | 08:34 AM (EST)

HuffPost Video Premiere: Playing For Change Presents "Don't Worry"


What an amazing time and place we live in. Absolutely. Although she was mugged politically over phraseology while on the campaign trail for her husband, Michelle Obama did, in fact, utter the most beautiful words when she intimated, "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback." Most of us understood the phrase's innocence and depth, and we even shared in her pride. But its political exploitation was inevitable (file under Obama is a Muslim, Obama pals around with terrorists, Obama eats puppies, etc.). However, it's not that far-fetched that on Tuesday, most everyone will experience what she felt as this nation replaces the toxicity of 9/11 with the positivity of 1/20.

One would have to be devoid of feeling if, over the last few days, we didn't get at least one lump in our throats as our new flat-screens documented the future's arrival via Barack Obama's historic and symbolic train ride to Washington, DC. Who wouldn't be moved by the sight of hundreds of thousands of our citizens assembled between two presidential monuments where, with Lincoln's image overseeing the celebration, excellent pre-inaugural musical performances were delivered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, U2, Garth Brooks, John Mellencamp, Josh Groban, Usher, Shakira, Renee Fleming, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock, James Taylor, will.i.am, Sheryl Crow, and Pete Seeger? Who wouldn't get a little misty listening to dramatic readings, addresses, reflections, and introductions by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Ashley Judd, Tiger Woods, Queen Latifah, and Vice-President-And-Everyman-Elect, Joe Biden? Who could resist singing along to patriotic anthems such as "This Land Is Your Land" and "America The Beautiful" that not only ignited an even grander spirit of patriotism among the enthusiastic masses and those who caught the HBO broadcast, but probably among the international audiences that attended by satellite as well? Sam Cooke had it right, change did come, and Obama's simple, logical mantra powered a nation to correct its course, examine its mistakes, and elect its first African-American president who will take office the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Seriously, what an amazing time and place we live in.

Well, already attuned with Obama's philosophy is the company "Playing For Change" that would like to see a whole lot of it as well. Assembling non-established musical performers from around the world, PFC delivers its message of change through song and in a very unique, trans-continental way. "The Playing For Change movement has a timely connection with the 'Change' movement of President Obama in that they are both driven by humanity, inspiration, and the desire to create a better world," says Mark Johnson, the Grammy-award winning producer/engineer and organization's co-founder. "Change for the love of everyone, change for the good of everyone, change that will make everything all right."

Already highly respected in his field, Johnson's credits include projects involving Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Rickie Lee Jones, Los Lobos and Henry Rollins, and his Contemporary Blues Album Grammy from 2005 was earned by producing and engineering the Keb' Mo' album, Keep It Simple. Over the last decade, Johnson's mission evolved from merely producing and engineering to promoting international peace through global musical cooperation. "For the past four years, a small crew has traveled the world with recording equipment and cameras in search of inspiration and human connections," Johnson explains. "The result is a movement connecting the world through music." He witnessed, firsthand, the power of music when, in South Africa, he and his team watched "people marching down streets, singing in groups of thousands," and doing more to "effect positive change than any weapon ever could."

His truly big idea began when he heard two monks playing in a New York subway. They were surrounded by about two hundred morning commuters who chose listening to the pair than arriving at work on time. The producer recalls, "It occurred to me that here is a group of people that would normally run by each other, but instead, they're coming together. And it's the music that brought them together." Johnson then began recording little known musicians from around the world, dubbing the process "Playing For Change," it implying both busking and trying to propagate evolution. Eventually, he and his team visited everywhere from New Orleans to the Himalayas, South Africa to Jerusalem and beyond in his quest to capture the essence of regular people making heartfelt music, that being the universal condition that links musicians, vocalists and the message in all parts of the world. Filmed under the sun or streetlights, doorways, parks, plazas, on cobblestone streets or hilly regions, and employing innovative, state of the art equipment and techniques, these collaborations took place hundreds to thousands of miles apart, and has become the standard process.

Titled Playing for Change: A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians, the organization's first documentary was filmed around locales such as New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles. Years later, in 2008, Playing for Change: Peace Through Music debuted at the Tribecca Film Festival in New York, and this Mark Johnson/Jonathan Walls-directed documentary--that includes performances by 100 international musicians--won the Audience Award at the Woodstock Film Festival. Critically-acclaimed at many film festivals and by publications such as Variety, the 2008 documentary featured performances such as an elderly Santa Monica guitarist singing "Stand By Me" as the bed for additional singers and musicians. The doc also included New Orleans blues singers, Venezuelan rock guitarists, a Moscow chamber group, a drummer from the Congo jamming with a Barcelona conga player, South American freedom fighters who played songs that helped end apartheid, and Zunis from New Mexico who performed devotional songs. "The act of playing music with people of different cultures, religions, economics, and politics is a powerful statement," Johnson stated in a recent press release. "It shows that we can find ways of working together and sharing our experiences with one another in a positive way. Music has the power to break down the walls between cultures, to raise the level of human understanding."

Last year, in addition to unveiling its film and the phenomenally popular YouTube video, "Stand By Me" (with over four million views to date), PFC established a for-profit company called Timeless Media that went into business with the legendary Norman Lear's brave and successful Concord Music Group for the latter entity to produce and distribute CDs, DVDs and merchandise. This year, there will be a website established to help low-profile artists record, publish and promote their music to a global market, and it also will include downloadable multimedia content with a portion of the profits to be reserved for building music schools and other artistic endeavors.

Johnson's latest video, "Don't Worry," was written by Barcelona's Pierre Minetti, and is "the first original song (performed) around the world featured by Playing For Change," says the director, adding that it "speaks of the unity we all share on this planet." Featuring over twenty musicians from four continents who have never met, "Don't Worry" makes its auspicious debut today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and is featured here:

Also presented here is the video "Stand By Me":