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Mark Johnson of Playing for Change, and Bonga, 3rd July

PostPosted: Wed Jul 01, 2009 11:07 am
by Charlie
So. All this exposure on YouTube. Can it make any difference? You bet it can.

One of the biggest phenomena in the past few months has been the buskers’ project called Playing for Change. I lost count of how many emails I was sent, with the note: you must see this!. I duly looked, and found a man in the street singing ‘Stand By Me’, a song I had heard too many times to welcome another version. But, persevering, I saw that after a minute or so somebody else was singing it, while listening to the first version on headphones. And so it went on, a round the world relay, with harmonica here, slide guitar there and a South African gospel group to finish it off. Brilliant. But would it translate to record sales in the old fashioned sense? In the week that I met Mark Johnson, the man behind the project, the album had gone straight into the Billboard top ten albums, carrying a DVD in the same package. Has it ever happened before that a bunch of entirely unknown buskers have surfaced in the American best-selling charts? I doubt it. Forget about the trivialities of Facebook, this is where YouTube and MySpace show their worth.

Image
CG & Mark Johnson, outside BBC Studios at Maida Vale
[photo by Dean Craven]

Reading Mark’s commentary on his own website www.playingforchange.com I was a little uneasy at his expression of hopes that this togetherness of music might somehow be a way to bring peace to the world. For me, music is a thing on its own, not an alternative to guns. But I invited him to come and play Radio Ping Pong anyway, hoping we would avoid getting into too righteous a mode. We never came close, because Mark is a very straightforward and unpretentious man, who not only followed up his own brilliant idea of following several songs around the world but took a camera crew with him to document what happened. Some of my favourite moments in the film are when passersby and watching kids spontaneously start dancing around to the music of the buskers.

As a notorious curmudgeon regarding current English folk music, I have argued that the true folk music of our times is made from the popular songs that come to us out of the radio, and here’s the project to illustrate what I’ve been trying to demonstrate; music for the people, by the people, which so-called folk music rarely manages to be. In preparation for the ping pong, I sorted out two types of contenders: artists who might themselves be classified as buskers, and other songs that might fit the concept. In the end I was unable to fit the latter into the available time, but slipped Miriam Makeba’s ‘Malaika’ into the songs I played after the game was over. It feels like the perfect universal song to transcend language and nation. Mark had not left the studio yet, and sat entranced, promising he would follow up the idea.

Since our encounter, Playing for Change played at Glastonbury on something called the Jazz World Stage. What is jazz world? The audience at Glastonbury seemed to have no better idea than the rest of us, and most stayed well clear. Who was going to choose that obscure corner of the site, when Bruce Springsteen was on the main stage? Not many, is the unsurprising answer. Like tonight’s programme, the Playing for Change set began with Tinariwen and blossomed from there. Hopefully, a reader will report first hand in the forum at www.soundoftheworld.com

Image
Bonga at Maida Vale
[photo by CG]

In a perfect world, the Angolan singer Bonga would have been available to be in our studio on the same day, but he came a couple of days later and we slipped his performances into the sequence. Lacking a common language, our conversation was not as comfortable as usual, but Bonga’s story is extraordinary, his voice a thing of wonder and I am very glad we were able to honour one of the great figures of contemporary world music. Wondering what he might make of them, just before it was his turn to sing I played two songs with a Lusophone connection, including a track from a new compilation of songs recorded during the 1960s and 70s in Bombay specifically for the population of Goa, the former Portuguese enclave on the west coast of India. Bonga looked merely disdainful as the voice of Lorna filled the studio, but did warm to the familiar voice of Amalia Rodrigues, Portugal’s biggest star in the years just before he made his own remarkable debut in 1972.

The programme is first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 at 11.15 pm (23.15) on Friday 3rd July 2009 and remains online on iPlayer for seven days at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/worldon3

Charlie Gillett

Seq - Artist - Song Title - Album - Country - Label - Cat no

1 - Tinariwen - Tenhert - Imidiwan (Companions) - Mali - Independiente -

2 - Andre Williams - Cadillac Jack - Sound of the City: Chicago - USA - EMI - 7243 539459 2

3 - Lorna - Lisboa - Konkani Songs: music from Goa, Made in Bombay - India - Trikont - O395

4 - Amália Rodrigues - Maria Lisboa - The Art of Amália - Portugal - EMI Hemisphere - 7243 4 95771 2

Bonga in session with guitarist Djepson (from Guinea Bissau) (Part One)

5 - Bonga and Djepson - Bairro - In session - Angola/Guinee Bissau - -

6 - Bonga and Djepson - Mona Kingi Xica - In session - Angola/Guinee Bissau - -

- Radio Ping Pong with Mark Johnson of Playing for Change (*) - - - - -

7 - Playing for Change - Stand By Me - Playing for Change - various - Wrasse - WRASS 242

*8 - Paul Simon (with Ladysmith Black Mambazo) - Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes - Paul Simon's Greatest Hits - USA/South Africa - Warner - WE 833

9 - Geoffrey Gurrumul - Marrandi - Gurrumul - Australia - Skinnyfish - SFGU080201

*10 - Otis Redding - I've Been Loving You Too Long (live) - Live in Paris & London - USA - Volt - STX 30892

11 - Moondog - Sextet (Oo) - More moondog - US - Honest Jons records - HJRCDDJ106

*12 - Victor Démé - Cheri - Victor Démé - Burfina Faso - Chapa Blues - CPCD01

13 - Group Doueh - Fagu - Guitar Music from Western Sahara - Morocco - Sublime Frequencies - SF030CD

*14 - Manu Chao - Amalucada Vida - La Radiolina - France/Spain - Because - 34 26092

15 - Playing for Change - War/No More Trouble - Playing for Change - various - Wrasse - WRASS 242

Bonga in session with guitarist Djepson (from Guinea Bissau) (Part Two)

16 - Bonga and Djepson - Omen de Saco - In session - Angola/Guinee Bissau - -

17 - Bonga and Djepson - Mulemba Xangola - In session - Angola/Guinee Bissau - -

18 - Miriam Makeba (with Harry Belafonte) - Malaika (My Angel) - Her Essential Recordings - South Africa/USA - Manteca - MANTDBL502

19 - 17 Hippies - El Dorado - El Dorado - Germany - Hipster - HIP 013

20 - Khaled - Raikoum - Liberté - Algeria/France - Wrasse - WRASS 239

PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 2:27 pm
by howard male
I'm surprised to see no one has commented on this show yet. Bonga's performances were sublime and I also really like the Playing for Change take on 'Stand by Me'.

Http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Us-TVg40ExM

It's very rare that an idealistic experiment like this satisfies aesthetic as well as moral criterior, but this has a nice ragged feel, and doesn't for one moment feel like something that has been pieced together on a laptop over a period of several years. There's a great spin-tingling moment when the drums come in at around 2 minutes - excellent production.

But have I missed something? The whole project seems to have the air of a charity record about it but I can't actually find any reference to any percentage of the money this CD/DVD makes being given to worthy causes.

PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 2:39 pm
by Charlie
howard male wrote:But have I missed something? The whole project seems to have the air of a charity record about it but I can't actually find any reference to any percentage of the money this CD/DVD makes being given to worthy causes.

As far as I know, this is made by a man with a mission where the project itself is its own justification. Mark has allocated a royalty share (or share of equity, as he put it) to each of the main participants. Charity records are almost always disastrous, either in not raising as much money as they cost to make or in being aesthetically naff.

I was hoping somebody would comment on what Group Doueh sounded like, after all the discussion that followed their UK gigs (in the 'gigs' section of this forum).

PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 2:58 pm
by howard male
Charlie wrote -

I was hoping somebody would comment on what Group Doueh sounded like


As you know, Charlie, I like my world music to not be too tasteful and to preferable have a sonic spanner (rather than screwdriver) in the works, but this was just a big fat sack of spanners as far as I was concerned. A grooveless, stuttering and impossible to connect with nest of musical barbed wire.

PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 3:50 pm
by Charlie
howard male wrote: A grooveless, stuttering and impossible to connect with nest of musical barbed wire.

Thank you, funny how often we react in a similar ways even though you went through punk with your ears open and I slipped past it with mine shut

CG

PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:43 pm
by jackdaw version
I enjoyed the show — but Group Doueh just slipped right by me, maybe I was doing the laundry, no real impression good or bad (which I suppose is automatically sort of bad). I remember what you said about them better than the music. "Malaika" made an impression, however.

PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 7:24 pm
by Chris P
Charlie wrote:I was hoping somebody would comment on what Group Doueh sounded like


Sounds fine, if unfocussed, to me : just launched the iPlayer & headed for this track because I didn't believe Howard's spanners & barbed wire nest comment. Understand the pov now, although I find the music very likeable. But I don't believe this track is Doueh at their best. By chance, last night I watched some phone video I took at their first UK performance at Bristol's Cube (great venue), and it was wonderful, and has a clear structure and tuneful singing while still being full of improvised sonic guitar wildness

PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 9:42 am
by Charlie
email from Joe Boyd

Ha! You old curmudgeon you!

I would never suggest that "English Folk Music" has much traction among 'the folk' these days - nor would any of my folkie friends. Stand By Me means a lot more, of course!

The only point is - do I love listening to English Folk Music (at its best) and the answer is a resounding YES! Do I suspect that the English, like most NW European post-industrial countries, are uncomfortable with their own rural traditions? Another resounding YES! But the first is provable, the second only speculation.

And do you love listening to English Folk Music? - clearly a resounding NO!

It's de gustibus non est disputandum territory, not conceptual or theoretical, really.

Can Morris Dance be sexy? Watch this space....

best

Joe

PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 7:01 pm
by Andrewq
I've refrained from looking at references to Group Doueh but when I heard the track - and I was driving - I just thought 'Pure Peel'.
Only he could have got away with playing this, until now. As with Peel's experimental tracks, I persevered until the end but I think you need to be in the middle of the Sahara under a thousand stars with a bong to fully connect.

PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 9:50 am
by Charlie
email from Liz Molony

I've enjoyed grabbing times on-line to catch up on your very 'alive' collection of Friday 3rd.
[Caught some of it while driving at 3.00 am to airport!]

I liked the Tinariwen 'Tenhert' piece - from Mali
and Bonga's gravelly voice - his is quite a story.
A wonderful example of the power of music.
Like poets, musicians seem to be the first to be silenced when their words challenge.
His pieces are so full of yearning and anguish.
Don't you wish you could understand the words?
That one about the abandoned children of the refugees. Mona Kingi Xica' - haunts me.

I agreed with Mark Johnson about Paul Simon's generous 'sharing his position' - drawing out musicians of talent who would otherwise missed coming to world notice. There was great excitement when this record came out.
I hadn't realized till I read about it that LBM have had wonderful tours abroad since singing with PS..

Have you seen Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform that piece on stage? 'Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes'
The dancing combined with that great musicianship is infectious in its sense of fun.
They wear sparklingly white trainers, which in South Africa were once called 'wit tekkies'...from the days when they wore tennis shoes called ' Tackies' and the canvases kept very white for their competitions.
Mine workers also sang and danced in Gum Boots [Wellingtons].
Joseph Shabalala, their founder and leader gave an interview telling the moving story of their music.
I expect you know all this, but if not I've attached it.

WOMAD must have been a wonderful Weekend!
Liz M.

PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 10:01 am
by Con Murphy
As it wasn't mentioned, I assume the Bonga-played-football-for-Benfica myth has been well and truly laid to rest now?

Like Chris, I prefer Group Doueh's more structured music than the track you played, although I agree with Andrew that the mere playing of it was a welcome invocation of the Peelite spirit. JP circa '73 rather than '77 though - was I the only one who thought there was something vaguely prog-like about the instrumentation (ie high-speed widdliness to no real purpose)?

PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 4:27 pm
by Charlie
Con Murphy wrote:As it wasn't mentioned, I assume the Bonga-played-football-for-Benfica myth has been well and truly laid to rest now?

yes it has.

Con Murphy wrote:Like Chris, I prefer Group Doueh's more structured music than the track you played, although I agree with Andrew that the mere playing of it was a welcome invocation of the Peelite spirit. JP circa '73 rather than '77 though - was I the only one who thought there was something vaguely prog-like about the instrumentation (ie high-speed widdliness to no real purpose)?

I must say that when I played it, I felt the spirit of Peel hovering close by. There's a DJ unit in the Maida Vale studios which was reportedly designed specifically to enable Peel to be in charge of playing the CDs rather than having the engineer slip them in as is the norm. Mark Lamarr uses it regularly on his Radio 2 show(s), and I sometimes do, as on this occasion. The weakness is that there is no 'talk back', meaning the DJ in the performing studio cannot communicate with the producer and engineer in the control room.

PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 5:02 pm
by mike gavin
Con Murphy wrote:was I the only one who thought there was something vaguely prog-like about the instrumentation (ie high-speed widdliness to no real purpose)?


I really think that's missing the point Con - not prog but, to use another musical/cultural phrase - head music.

Re: Mark Johnson of Playing for Change, and Bonga, 3rd July

PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2009 10:37 pm
by MurkeyChris
Charlie wrote:Since our encounter, Playing for Change played at Glastonbury on something called the Jazz World Stage. What is jazz world? The audience at Glastonbury seemed to have no better idea than the rest of us, and most stayed well clear. Who was going to choose that obscure corner of the site, when Bruce Springsteen was on the main stage? Not many, is the unsurprising answer.


Well actually, the Jazz World stage is a long established fixture at Glastonbury and the third biggest stage on site, so hardly the obscure backwater you make it out to be! I do agree about the name, there's a good smattering of world music but very very little jazz. It was briefly renamed the One World stage but that didn't stick. I was one of the very few who saw Playing for Change and even before I got there I thought it was a pretty brave / reckless move to put such an unknown (in the UK) act on as headliner. Listening in to the people around me, most of the people there were just lured in by the promise of special guests, few of whom materialised. The gig itself, well it was alright, a pleasant end to the night but nothing special to be honest. Now the Africa Express debut a few years ago, that was more like it...

Chris

PostPosted: Wed Oct 07, 2009 9:59 pm
by Alan
GLOBAL PHENOMENON PLAYING FOR CHANGE MAKES LONDON DEBUT AT SOUTHBANK CENTRE
Tuesday 8 December, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm, Tickets £22.50 £20 £17.50

FROM STREET TO STAGE … WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS STREET MUSICIANS AND SPECIAL GUESTS TO BE JOINED BY LONDON BUSKERS AT SOUTHBANK CENTRE'S ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Us-TVg40ExM

On Tuesday 8 December 2009, Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall plays host to Playing For Change, a live concert featuring original artists, including Grandpa Elliot, from producer Mark Johnson's inspired project. This project of filmed and recorded performances by street musicians from all over the world, was edited together to form seamless versions of internationally renowned standards such as Ben E. King's Stand By Me, Bob Marley's One Love and Peter Gabriel’s Biko.

There will be a number of special guests joining the musicians on stage. In addition, the support on the night will come from the winner and two runners up of London Mayor, Boris Johnson and Transport for London’s busking initiative Rhythm of London.

The brainchild of Grammy-winning music producer and engineer Mark Johnson, the Playing for Change project began a decade ago, and its original YouTube clip has had 14 million views around the world, leading to the special CD/DVD package Playing For Change – Songs Around the World, which became a Top Ten US album in 2009. It saw contributions from artists like Bono and American blues musician Keb’ Mo’ and also features the original musicians, including Grandpa Elliot, a supremely talented blues musician from New Orleans, steel guitarist Roberto Luti from Livorno, Italy and drummer Junior Kissangwa Mbouta from Kinshasa, Congo.

The Playing For Change project has extensively toured in the United States and performed in many countries around the world since. In June 2009, Playing for Change appeared in a headline spot at Glastonbury’s Jazz/World Stage, where the original stars were joined by Tinariwen, Vusi Mahlasela, Baaba Maal and a 32-piece children's choir set up in response to the Omagh bombing of 1998.

Mark Johnson, founder, Playing for Change, said:
“The act of playing music with people of different cultures, religions, economics and politics is a powerful statement. 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.â€