Local businessman on Playing for Change Global Board

July 22, 2012 by Odile Faludi
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Playing for Change is a multimedia global movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music…writes Odile Faludi.

The idea for this project arose from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. The founders built a mobile recording studio, equipped with all the same equipment used in the best studios, and travelled the world to discover and record predominantly unknown street performers. Via social media platforms it enabled them to communicate on mass, breaking down boundaries and overcoming distances between people. The extraordinary results of these courageous founders is outlined by Sydney businessman Maurie Stang.
I recently caught up with Maurie Stang, Chairman of the Global Advisory Board for Playing for Change to discuss how music is quickly becoming the language of peace. Odile was curious right upfront to ask the question,  “Why would a busy businessman get involved in this organisation, isn’t it just about playing music?” As Maurie told his story, I quickly realised that this story was bigger than I had ever imagined. In fact, it’s far bigger than Maurie would have ever imagined! It’s a story full of unbelievable surprises.

The story begins…

Maurie Stang

Early in 2011, Maurie was given a DVD from a friend and as simple as that, it changed him and moved him to act. Maurie says, “When I looked at the Playing for Change DVD I was completely blown away.” Inspired by the two key founders (Mark Johnson who is a Grammy-winning producer/engineer and award-winning film director and Raan Williams who had over 11 years of experience in entertainment business management working with some of Hollywood’s greatest actors, musicians, and filmmakers); Maurie knew that this organisation was special. Maurie at the time had no idea if they were a global organisation or two guys working out of a garage. Irrespective, he was overwhelmed by what they were doing and what they had achieved. Maurie candidly says, “At the beginning, I was happy to sweep the floor just do anything to be involved. I never dreamed it would grow to the current relationship.”

Playing for Change began in 2004 in Santa Monica inspired by Roger Ridley, a street performer originally from Atlanta ,whose mantra is, “I am in the Joy business.” Mark put together his first Playing for Change DVD and the first song was Stand by Me and it went viral all around the world with a staggering 80 million online hits. So Mark and Raan just continued to travel and record more songs, each one better than the next.  Most of the songs are legendary and have been donated by people like the Marley Family, Keith Richards, Yoko Ono and Bono. This alone says a huge thing about this organisation to receive this sort of backing and recognition from such renowned artists.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit , Mark and Raan went down to New Orleans to do a small independent film to see if music, being the soul of New Orleans, was still alive. Not only was the city alive but music was still very much its heartbeat. They started filming Grandpa Elliott, a street performer. After making that initial film, they thought maybe they should shoot a few other films in other cities and focus on street performers and buskers. When that came together so well they thought why limit it to the US.  They started to travel around the world recording people.  “What if all these people around the world being, disparate rather than desperate, could jam together. Play music together as one entity, one soul,” Mark said.  As a music producer he was well accustomed to laying down tracks and he came up with the Playing for Change format. Musicians were jamming with each other who had never met each other. He would arrive in a city with his mobile recording studio. In some places there were organised recordings and the rest of it was just by meeting random people off the street spontaneously and then getting introduced to someone else and it snowballed. Through the ground network, Mark would discover enormous talent and created the opportunity to record it.

This incredible success encouraged the founders and their small team of dedicated board members to think about how they could make a worldwide contribution? They established the Playing for Change Foundation which is all about education and using the power of music to heal those who need it most. Music feeds self-esteem and breeds joy. Their model is to work with underprivileged communities.

The best example is in Rwanda in Central Africa where a lot of the students were formerly soldiers. Through this music program the children have gotten back their self-respect and humanity. Maurie is very quick to say, “This is Mark and Raan’s achievements and nothing to do with me, but I am so proud to be part of such an organisation that can bring such profound change to so many communities around the world.”

To date they have eight separate music programs running in Ghana, Nepal, South Africa, Mali and Rwanda. Their greatest accomplishment is that these music programs serve as a distraction from all the negative elements about the country. It allows the children to focus on the positive aspects of life through music. It is the aim of the Foundation to have 12 music programs up and running by 2013. The Playing for Change Foundation are looking to expand to build music schools in Burma, Thailand and Australia.  A percentage of every dollar earned through the “social enterprise” goes to the Foundation and the Foundation raises money in its own right.

In 2012, Playing For Change has partnered with the United Nations to present an original song around the world to serve as an anthem called “United.” This song will not only inspire you but give you tingles. Bringing seven billion people together is no small task but in this song it makes it sound easy.  The United Nations has also adopted a song sung in Hebrew, another first. Playing for Change have won major awards for their contribution to music. Recently, they were the only act at the World International Forum on Globalization. Maurie wants to make it clear, “There has never been a path to become mainstream  commercial, it’s a social enterprise which unearths gifted musical people who would have had no chance of ever being heard as equals on the world stage. For many, careers are launched and they get financially strong enough to come and participate in tours across the world so that’s a social enterprise and one that works!”

The support for this organisation is history making. The music output is so sincere more and more people just want to be part of it and help in any way that they can. The Playing for Change website is heading towards 200 million hits – it’s phenomenal. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA contributed satellite time so that the kids can hear themselves playing music in different parts of the world over the internet. Hey, if we can get man on the moon why can’t we stop wars and create world peace through music. NASA committing to the Playing for Change Foundation, says a lot! Chris Blackwell has recently jumped on board as a supporter. He is a record producer, and the founder of Island Records. Carlos Slim is a Mexican business magnate and philanthropist who has also fallen in-love with the Playing for Change movement and the big names just keep coming.

More and more people keep wanting to get involved. Mark and Raan are the modern day Pied Pipers for Playing for Change and Maurie is more than happy to follow these great leaders!  As Maurie says, “Social media has given us freedom of thought, Playing for Change redefines the integrity of music.”

Please note:
The 2nd annual Playing For Change Day is happening all over the world on Saturday, 22 September 2012! To find out how you can participate click here


One Response to “Local businessman on Playing for Change Global Board”
  1. Fraser says:

    This has to be one of the greatest musical achievements ever! Without the unique combination of skilful studio editing, the unpretentious participation of street musicians and torchbearers like Maurie Stang, it could never have happened. And overarching all this is the imagination of Mark Johnson and Raan Williams who saw the world as a singing collective without boundaries.

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