Playing for Change team with Keith Richards to connect the world through music

May 8, 2014
photo: Playing for Change
The Playing for Change Band

This is where the story of Playing for Change begins.

“As a human race we've come together for birth and death. What brings us together in between is up to us. Stop and listen to the universal language of music. And bring that positive energy with you everywhere you go.”

- Mark Johnson, Playing for Change co-founder

Playing for Change was born in 2002. It was the brainchild of Mark Johnson and Whitney Kronke. The idea: hit the streets, armed with a mobile recording studio and cameras on a journey in search of inspiration and the heartbeat of the people.

That journey lead to the recording of musicians around the planet performing the same song, interpreted in their own unique style, dubbed "A Song Around The World." The result was the award-winning documentary “A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians.”

In 2005, on the streets of Santa Monica, Calif., Mark Johnson heard the voice of Roger Riley singing “Stand By Me.” Knocked out by the sound, Johnson asked Roger if he would be interested in performing the tune as "A Song Around the World." The footage begins with Riley, just his soulful voice and guitar.

Then, without missing a beat, you're on the streets of New Orleans with Grandpa Elliot, picking up where Roger leaves off. As "Stand By Me" picks up momentum, you travel to the Netherlands, France, Russia, Venezuela and the Congo. Each singer and musician adds his or her own personal touch to the classic. As of February 2014, that video has had over 59 million views. Since then there have been CDs, DVDs and another documentary.

Fast forward to last week. The video for a song on the next Playing for Change CD shows up on the Internet, and it will be your jam today. The song slowly builds with musicians from Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica and Portugal laying the foundation for the introduction of the song's writer: Keith Richards.

Keef is sitting on a beach with an acoustic guitar. The youthful yelp that delivered the anthems "Happy" and "Before They Make Me Run" has now been replaced with a subterranean growl (although it's remarkably smooth here) as he sings the opening lines from "Words of Wonder." It's an island tune from his second solo record "Main Offender." Richards has long been recognized as the conduit between the Stones and reggae.

After Richards, South African singer Titi Tsari picks up the vocals. Then at the four-minute mark, the song ever so slightly shifts chord progression into The Wailer's classic "Get Up, Stand Up." Now modern bluesman Keb' Mo' joins the tune. A didgeridoo, a ukelele, more guitars and the voices of Sherita Lewis, Nikki Burt (Jamaica), Natalie Pa'apa'a (Australia) and Mermans Mosengo (Congo) get layered in. It's eight minutes of skankin' joy.

 

Levitt Pavilion at Ruby Hill will present a free Playing for Change concert on July 2 to benefit the Pavilion's construction. Details at www.levittdenver.org.

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