In 2004, independent music producer Mark Johnson began a project that he thought could change the world for the better. Johnson picked up a camera and set off around the world, grabbing astoundingly true-to-life footage of musicians playing their culturally diverse interpretations of the same songs. His Playing for Change Foundation set out to bring various world musicians together to promote peace and education. Having gained momentum and funds through donations over the past few years, Playing for Change now teaches 600 students in seven educational programs spread across the globe.
On Oct. 8, the Scripps Residential Life staff brought together local and student artists at the Motley coffeehouse to play for change. The first act to perform was a local band called Songword that played, as one band member put it, “folky acoustic reggae-rock.” Brandishing two airy-voiced contra soprano vocalist/guitarists and a noodling lead guitarist with a glassy twang, Songword performed mostly original songs including “Given Up” and “We’re All Just Trying to Live,” a slow-turning steel-string stomp accompanied by wispy harmonies. Considering most of Songword’s set list featured lyrics geared toward peace and love, it fit right in to the mission behind Playing for Change.
The 5C Gospel Choir performed second, covering two songs, one of which was the Israel and New Breed hit “I Know Who I Am.” The musical presentation was breathtaking; the choir sang every note on pitch and on beat.
Next on the stage was Anna Walton SC ’14, a singer-songwriter who sings, plays the piano, and knows a good bit of guitar. Walton’s soft yet firm soprano voice matched perfectly with her original songs, a mix of sullen melodic piano riffs and floating vocal lines about love and loss. “Jeremiah” stood out as one of the strongest tracks, featuring a perfectly-written melody and truly emotional lyrics. Walton ended her set with a beautiful slowed down, extra-long version of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.”
Midnight Echo, a 5C a cappella group, concluded the concert with a delightful combination of goofy clothing choices, tightly-tuned a cappella harmony, and a beat boxer.
Each act gave it their all in hopes of bringing a bit of change to the world. Playing for Change accepts donations all year round on its website and hosts a variety of performances throughout the year.