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Transcript:

December 5, 2008

BILL MOYERS: In just the last month unfortunately, we've lost two women whose gutsy, soulful voices embodied the conscience of their homelands.

First to leave us was Miriam Makeba, known as "Mama Africa." She spent more than 30 years banned from South Africa for the outspoken, joyous songs that rang out from the ramparts of the anti-apartheid movement. But exile could not silence the township radios and tape decks that continued to fill the air with Makeba, in defiance of the law. "Her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us," Nelson Mandela said. "She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours."

We also said goodbye to Odetta Holmes — known simply as Odetta. She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, during the depths of the Great Depression. And she made the blues and the work songs and spirituals of the Deep South a mainstay of American folk music, the soundtrack to the struggle for civil rights.

Despite failing health, she performed to the very end, and hoped to serenade Barack Obama at his inauguration.

Though we mourn their loss, the voices of Odetta and Makeba will live on. Music continues to cross all boundaries and to touch what's common to the human heart.

My next guest continues to believe that through song we can change the world. We first introduced him to you a few weeks ago, and we were overwhelmed by your response. One woman whose family has been pitched overboard by the sinking economy wrote us to say: "I haven't felt much joy lately," but after watching the program, "for the first time in a very long time, my heart felt something other than pain and fear."

We lost count of the number of people who requested an encore so we're delighted now to oblige.

Mark Johnson is the co-director of a remarkable documentary about the simple but transformative power of music: "Playing for Change: Peace Through Music."

MARK JOHNSON: Well I think music is the one thing that opens the door to bringing people to a place where they are all connected. It is easy to connect to the world through music, you know. Religion, politics, a lot of those things they seem to divide everybody.

BILL MOYERS: The film brings together musicians from around the world — from blues singers in a waterlogged New Orleans, to chamber groups in Moscow and a South African choir — they celebrate songs familiar and new, to touch something common in each of us. Here is one you might recognize:

VARIOUS SINGERS/MUSICIANS:
Oh yeah, my darling, stand by me
No matter how much money you got, all the friends you got,
You're gonna need somebody, to stand by you
When the night has come. And the land is dark
And that moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't shed one tear
Just as long as you people come and stand by me
And darlin', darlin', stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand, stand, stand by me
Come on stand by me
When the sky that we look upon
When she tumble and fall
Oh the mountains they should crumble into the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
So darlin', darlin', stand by me, oh stand by me
Please stand, stand by me, stand by me
Oh baby baby,
Darlin', darlin', stand by me, oh stand by me
So darlin', darlin', stand, oh stand, oh stand, stand by me,
Come on stand by me
Stand, oh won't you stand, oh stand, stand by me, stand by me,
When the night has come, and the land is dark,
And the moon is the only light we'll see,
I won't be afraid, I won't be afraid,
Not as long, not as long as you stand by me

BILL MOYERS: The filmmaker is Mark Johnson. He's a Grammy award-winning producer and engineer and a film director who has worked with some of the most renowned musicians and producers in the field. Mark, welcome to the Journal.

MARK JOHNSON:Thank you so much. It's an honor to be here.

BILL MOYERS: What in the world prompted you to do this?

MARK JOHNSON:The idea came about ten years ago, here in New York City. I was in a subway station on my way to work. You know, every day in the subway, people are just running around like crazy to get wherever they have to go.

BILL MOYERS: Oh, tell me about it.

MARK JOHNSON:But this particular day, I was in the subway and I heard these two monks playing music. And they were painted head to toe, all in white, wearing robes. And one of them was playing a nylon guitar and the other one was singing in a language that I didn't understand and I imagine most people didn't understand.

BILL MOYERS: Everybody was just standing around. I've done that. Yeah.

MARK JOHNSON:You know, there were about 200 people just stopped. Didn't get on the train and started watching this music. And I looked around and I saw people with tears in their eyes. And I saw jaw dropping. And I just saw this collection. And it occurred to me that here is a group of people that would normally run by each other. And here they are, collectively coming together. And it's the music that brought them together.

So it really inspired me. And it occurred to me that when there's no separation between music and people, when music is just happening and people can walk by and it can affect them, that this is an opportunity for us to really find a way to bring people together.

BILL MOYERS: A hundred musicians took part, right?

MARK JOHNSON:Yes. Yes.

BILL MOYERS: Ten years, it took you.

MARK JOHNSON:Ten years it took me.

BILL MOYERS: Did you ever think of just giving up?

MARK JOHNSON:You know, I remember, as I started this project, it started to build more and more importance. And I remember at some point or another, realizing that we were going to represent the eyes on the faces of the kids on this planet.

And that that was going to be our motivation. So there was no chance we were going to stop. Because the truth is, they need us to inspire each other and to create a better world. I mean, there's so many problems now with the economy and with war and a lot of depression. But at the end of the day, there's also so much hope because I can assure you, all over the world, people are beautiful and they want to unite together.

BILL MOYERS: But there are also some very ugly situations in the world. And you went into the heart of some of them. What took you to those places to try to sprinkle this hope you talk about?

MARK JOHNSON:Well, I think that in order to really unite people, you know, we have to show that in our darkest situations and in the places with the most struggles in the world, that we can find a way of uplifting each other out of it. I remember hearing somebody that said, you know, "The last person who knew why we were fighting died a long time ago."

We all know the world is changing. And we get to decide if it's changing for the better or if it's changing for the worse. And so with music, it opens up these doors that ordinarily wouldn't be opened.

BILL MOYERS: What have you taken from this yourself?

MARK JOHNSON:Well, I think that maybe the biggest lesson that I've learned from "Playing for Change" is that all over the world, we can be different and still be together. And I think that that was the most profound thing. I mean, here we have in just in the song, "Stand by Me", we have different religions, different political points of view. We have rich people, poor people, different economics, different cultures. And when it came time to singing together, they all united without any trouble.

BILL MOYERS: Why did you choose "Stand by Me"?

MARK JOHNSON:I chose "Stand by Me" — or it chose me as it may have been, because I was walking in the streets in Santa Monica, California where I live. And I heard the singer, Roger Ridley, playing the song on the street. And I was maybe a block away, and I still heard him. And I remember running back over to catch the performance.

ROGER RIDLEY: No matter who you are. No matter where you go in life. You're going to need somebody to stand by you.

MARK JOHNSON:And when the song ended, you know, I was so moved by him, his voice sort of representing everything to me that music is, with soul and perseverance and talent all wrapped into one voice. So I approached Roger and I said, "Hey, you know, if I come back with some recording equipment and some cameras, I would love to take this song around the world and add other musicians to it."

BILL MOYERS: What do you hope comes from this?

MARK JOHNSON:Well, I mean, with "Playing for Change", my ultimate thing would be that people understand that in a world with all this division, it's important for us to focus on our connections.

BILL MOYERS: You are starting some schools from this, called Playing for Change, right?

MARK JOHNSON:Many years back, my brother, Greg Johnson, who's been a huge source of inspiration for me, he had given me a Christmas gift which was a photo book called "A Day in the Life of Africa." And in that book was one photograph that he had framed for me.

And the caption was something along the lines of, "One of the more dangerous townships in South Africa finds solace through backyard jazz." And I had this picture on my wall for years. And it served as a symbol for me and for the crew that I was traveling me.

And so, I did some research. And I found out that the band leader was the upright bass player named Pokei Klaas. And he is the upright bass player you see in the "Stand by Me" video with the children in front of him.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

MARK JOHNSON:And so when we traveled down to Cape Town, South Africa, and we were going to eat at a restaurant, and we heard this music down the street. So the crew and I, we walked down there to hear their music. And when the band was over, we asked Joe Peterson, who was the singer in the band, "Have you ever heard of Pokei?"

And he said, "Oh, yeah, Pokei. He's my best friend. I'll take you to see Pokei." So the next day, we all got in a van and we drove out to Guguletu township. Which is passing thousands of shacks and an incredibly humbling experience. And we went out there and we show up and we meet Pokei. I remember there were a number of little homes in the backyard. And a lot of sorrow because there was a lot of HIV in the area. A lot of poverty.

So we decided, okay, we'll put on a little concert in the backyard because the people here need something to celebrate.

And I have never in my life seen something more beautiful when the people came out of their little homes and just started dancing and celebrating this music. And it was almost a form of an exorcism where all the sorrow was gone and they were now filled with all this joy and connection to us and to each other. And so we asked Pokei, as we had all the musicians along the way, you know, "Well, what can we do to give back to your community?

I mean, they let us in their homes. They fed us. They give us their music. They told us their stories in the world. And Pokei said, you know, "The kids here, they really need a music school. They need some hope. They need something that can give them some inspiration." And so just this — a couple months ago we went down there with some shovels and we built the first Playing for Change music school in that exact spot. In the backyard.

And now it's a chance for kids to get together, to have something positive to look forward to. And what we're doing with this foundation is we're going build hundreds of schools around the world. And installing them all with recording equipment and cameras. So that people can log on to the internet and they can watch recitals and concerts in the schools we're building, to kind of break down that whole distance barrier.

BILL MOYERS: Did anybody ever say to you, "Mark, don't be naïve"?

MARK JOHNSON:Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. But to me, naïve is thinking that there's any other choice. You know? The only choice we have is to come together. And to inspire each other because that's the way that we'll create a better world for us now and for the kids tomorrow.

And the other truth is, I mean, you know, a lot of people are living in a world of fear. But we don't even know how long we're going to be in this world. So there's really no reason to fear anything. The most important thing is while we're here, let's make a difference together. That's what Playing for Change is trying to represent.

BILL MOYERS: What's next for you?

MARK JOHNSON:Well, to continue to build schools around the world. The beautiful thing about Playing for Change is that it never ends. And so that we're going to continue to connect more and more musicians around the world. Build the family together. And build more schools.

BILL MOYERS: Mark Johnson, we'll close with your favorite song on the DVD, "One Love."

MARK JOHNSON:Thank you, Bill.

VARIOUS SINGERS:One love, one heart
Let's get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One love)
Hear the children crying (One heart)
Sayin', "Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right."
Sayin', "Let's get together and feel all right."
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa

Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (One love)
There is one question I'd really love to ask (One heart)
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner
Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own?
Believe me

One love, one heart
Let's get together and feel all right
As it was in the beginning (One love)
So shall it be in the end (One heart)
Alright, "Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right."
"Let's get together and feel all right."
One more thing

Let's get together to fight this Holy Armageddon (One love)
So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom (One song)
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation

Sayin', "One love, one heart
Let's get together and feel all right."
I'm pleading to mankind (One love)
Oh, Lord (One heart) Whoa.

"Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right."
Let's get together and feel all right.
Let's get together and feel all right.
I want to feel around
One love, one heart
Let's get together and feel all right.
Come on
Let's get together and feel all right.
As it was in the beginning (One love)
So shall it be in the end (One heart)

BILL MOYERS: That's it for the Journal. I'm Bill Moyers. I'll see you next week.

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