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World music mash-up

Various artists - Playing For Change: Songs Around The World
(Hear Music)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: May 25, 2009
Playing For Change

Review by Tony Bonyata

For those too young to remember the Coca-Cola television commercial from the early '70s where hundreds of multicultural youths banded together on a hilltop to sing a sunny message of united love and hope, as well as those too old to know, or even care, what a mash-up is, producer Mark Johnson has created a new musical statement that may actually make sense to both generations.

Johnson's music project entitled Playing For Change began five years ago when he started filming and recording various street musicians. The first musician filmed was Robert Ridley from Santa Monica, CA who performed a raw and riveting performance of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." Johnson then took this audio recording to various other places around the world, such as New Orleans, Zimbabwe, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Tibet and many other locales, and added other street musicians to the recording; which may just be the most aggressive mash-up of different musical styles and cultures ever attempted. The finished film footage of this song has already made a major impact online with YouTube views already nearing 11 million in just six months.

The viral success of the "Stand By Me" music video has also shed light on Johnson's new Playing For Change: Songs Around The World CD / DVD package. Like the lead-off track, the rest of the CD is filled with similar mash-ups of musicians from every corner of the globe. The songs range from Bob Marley's "One Love" and "War/No More Trouble," to Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' Bout A Revolution" and Peter Gabriel's anti-apartheid protest song "Biko." While the performances on these songs of peace, love, hope and racial equality are often uplifting and inspiring, the song choices seem a little safe and predictable. And for a project that started off to showcase the talents of unsung street and folk musicians around the world, the unnecessary addition of U2's Bono, along with mixing in the vocals from the late Bob Marley on "War/No More Trouble," makes it feel a bit forced and preachy. The fact is, with such amazing unknown talents from around the globe being mashed and mixed together to form a beautiful universal world-folk sound, the extra 'We Are The World'-type star power sprinkled in was definitely not needed.

Sometime after Johnson began this aggressive music project, he also created a separate Playing For Change non-profit organization that helps build music schools for children around the world. So what began as a documentation of street musicians actually singing for spare change has blossomed into a much larger project that actually is making a true and positive change throughout the world. Anyway you slice it here, change is a good thing.

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