to save our souls….
My husband is a musician and a lifelong music historian, so we listen to a lot of it, mostly rock.
He’s also a night owl, and watches YouTube pretty much exclusively. He always did that, but he used to do it at his desk, on his computer. Now he watches on the big TV and I get more benefit from his rabbithole finds. Recently he came across a new version of one of his favorite rock songs.
“When the Levee Breaks” wasn’t my favorite Led Zeppelin song, but it may be now. It showed up in the “Watch Again” row, and I asked about it. “Oh, you want to see this,” he said. So we watched it. And then we watched it again. And I know I’ve played it several times just writing this…. Here is a link, so you can experience it yourself. Watch and enjoy.
The editing and mixing is truly brilliant. The Sami woman with the reindeer, Mihirangi in New Zealand with her fierce strength, and then the wonderful Susan Tedeschi to pull the crescendo together and wrap it up.
John figured that since the visuals start with New Orleans flooding*, “Playing for Change” was some “do-gooder group raising money,” and, indeed, it is. But I discovered they are more than that, and they appear to have no agenda other than sharing music with the world. Teaching it where it isn’t taught. Gathering local musicians together in their own communities. Helping children to make it.
As far as I can tell, MUSIC is their single focus, as a way to bring people together. To show us all the various ways people make it, the incredible instruments they use. The way they interpret it. All of it together can make a song we all know by heart truly amazing again.
The way they do it is pretty cool too.
They created a battery-powered mobile studio and record most of it outside. Sometimes the famous people choose famous places, like two of the Nevilles in the Preservation Music Hall, or John Densmore on the beach at Venice. The Valley of the Gods in Utah. Ancient places, and alleys.
Most of the “Songs Around the World” videos are from a period between the early 2000s and sometime before covid. (Though “…Levee…” appears recent, judging by other articles I found looking for the link to share here.) They covered some miles.
Then some truly brilliant editing is done. The Songs Around the World are all carefully chosen, and the videos are travelogues. The combination is irresistible.
As soon as I started reading about Playing for Change, I was making a mental list of videos I had to see!
“All Along the Watchtower” featuring Warren Haynes and the aforementioned Nevilles (Cyril and his nephew Ivan) is one of the strongest, in so many ways. There is a “behind the video” on this one, too, which says a few things about the power of music. Here and here.
My second search was for “Redemption Song,” one of two favorite Bob Marley songs that use scripture. (There are more than a few, in the early days.) The video features Stephen Marley, and some great split screen with his dad.
Not all the videos are multiple musicians. Some are a single band and many are the “Playing for Change Band” performing somewhere, often featuring local musical stars, or the original performers. John found a version of “Dixie Chicken” like this, featuring two of the remaining members of Little Feat.
After awhile you start recognizing some of the faces and looking forward to what they will add, like the harmonies of Larkin Poe in Venice, and Sharieta Lewis and Roselyn Williams in Kingston, who add to the incredible finale of joined voices in “The Weight” featuring Robbie Robertson and Ringo.
Since YouTube is “intuitive” — i.e., it watches what you watch and makes “suggestions” for you — I left it playing again another morning as I cooked, and wandered into some gems I might have missed by simply “choosing.”
One of these was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” with children from all over the world. Another was “Iko Iko” featuring Doctor John in all his funky New Orleans finery, still upright, RIP. Another one was “Peace Train” (with the former Cat Stevens, now Ibrahim Yusef). The song seemed clichéd even in 1971– but 51 years later, after seeing this video… the Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi alone have made me believe.
I’m leery of world music movements. They often seem to be less like the historic, and probably legit, “LiveAID,” and more like the obsequious and virtue-signally fraud of “We Are the World.” Follow the money.
“Playing for Change,” whatever their agenda, is giving us some wonderful musical moments. They’ve taken classic rock, reggae and world music, and paired it with musicians and instruments that you don’t expect, but which take it to a whole new place.
One of the joys of making music is the interaction, how it feels to sing with a choir of 100 voices, or how a chord resonates with another chord, on another guitar, when you can feel the orchestra in your spine and your hair tingles – when the 1 + 1 is so much more than two.
Somehow, the producers have managed to convey that, even though almost everyone is playing or singing alone, listening to the song on headphones. It doesn’t feel like that. It soars, as if all of us are singing and playing along…
So, if you need a lift, like to sing along to songs you know, need a little reggae, or just want to see someone playing a didgeridoo to a rock song, go to YouTube or to the Playing for Change website and listen for awhile.
I have no connection to the group, but we all have a connection to good music that lifts our souls.
* the orginal song was about an early 20th century Mississippi flood, so it’s appropriate visually even if it is Katrina
(Playing for Change has levels of “support” and offer certain releases “exclusively,” so if you’re a music aficionado, you can donate and hear those, I guess. There are also some songs that even on YouTube are labeled “Fundraisers,” so you pay to see those. But a ton of their collection is free. On their website, you can choose “Songs Around the World” or “Behind the Songs” etc.)