World & Latin

The Sound Of Change

27 MAR 09 JOHN C. BRUENING

Mark Johnson believed in the idea of change from the ground up long before it became the centerpiece of a political campaign. The Grammy-winning producer/engineer has spent the past decade capturing the sound and spirit of street musicians and vocalists from around the globe and weaving them into a powerful whole called Playing For Change. The resulting CD-DVD set, Songs Around The World, is a musical call for a more peaceful and united world by a legion of voices representing virtually every continent on the planet.

Armed with state-of-the-art mobile audio/video technology, Johnson and his crew traveled from post-Katrina New Orleans to South Africa to Russia to Jerusalem to the Himalayas and beyond, where they found musicians performing in settings as diverse as cobblestone streets, public parks, shadowy doorways and hilly pueblos. Johnson then merged the tracks, enabling the musicians collaborate, even though separated by thousands of miles and cultural differences.

There are no marquee names here, but there's certainly no lack of talent or emotional punch, either. The performances are both inspired and inspiring -- from the heartfelt simplicity of "Stand By Me" (video) to the understated but hopeful "Biko" to the churning spiritual closer, "A Change Is Gonna Come." The CD-DVD set will hit stores, both physical and digital, April 28.

The idea for the project (playingforchange.com) came to Johnson years ago in a New York subway tunnel, where he once witnessed hundreds of commuters stopping in their tracks to listen to two monks playing music. "It occurred to me that here was a group of people that would normally run by each other, but instead they're coming together," says Johnson. "And it was the music that brought them together."

Indeed, the most powerful messages are the ones that come from under the surface -- from voices that are anonymous yet too numerous to ignore -- and eventually work their way upward to a chorus that reverberates around the globe.

This is what change sounds like.