SM PIER — Connecting the world through music. That’s the impetus for Playing for Change, a diverse, multi-cultural, global music project which started eight years ago when Grammy winning producer/engineer Mark Johnson (then living in New York) was on his way to work.

“While he was waiting on the subway platform he heard and saw two monks singing, and he looked around and noticed that 200 people had stopped to listen,” said Producer Whitney Kroenke Burditt whilst opining on her producing partner. “He noticed every race, gender and socio-economic background was represented and thought, ‘music has the ability to make people stop and listen despite all their differences.’ He wanted to figure out a way to record and film street musicians in their natural environment.”

What resulted was an assembly of diverse musicians in a heroic effort to inspire peace through the universal language of music.

Burditt met Johnson through a mutual friend, and said, “We had one conversation and just hit it off.” Burditt thought Johnson’s idea was “amazing and inspirational.”

In the fall of 2001 they created Playing for Change (the company) and set out to film and record the street musicians in the United States. They started in Los Angeles (and are based in L.A.), and eventually put together their first film, “Playing for Change” which is a “cinematic discovery of street music,” Burditt said. It focuses on the cities of New York, New Orleans, and Los Angeles and the cities’ street musicians.

Eventually they decided to go international, creating their second film, “Playing For Change: Peace Through Music.” To quote from that film, “They traveled around the world in search of inspiration.”

Because they were traveling to the people, what developed was a way for Johnson and Burditt to bring the music from the previous musicians to the next and “have them expand on the material, and add their own color and flavor to the existing songs,” Burditt explained.

Response has been pretty phenomenal with the two-disc CD/DVD “Playing For Change: Songs Around the World,” selling 26,000 copies in the first week.

“The profound response to this project is thrilling and immensely gratifying to all of the people who have passionately and tirelessly worked to make it happen,” Johnson said.

They are kicking off their free live show at the opening night of the Santa Monica Pier “Twilight Series” on July 2 with the Playing For Change band, which consists of musicians Louis Mhlanga from Zimbabwe; Mermans Kenosenki, the founder and leader of Afro Fiesta and the talented lead vocalist of the band; Jason Matondo, guitarist, born in Kinshasa, the capital town of DRC Congo; Reggie McBride, widely known for his bass playing on albums and live performances since 1969; Peter Bunetta, a veteran producer/performer and the drummer of the PFC band; Mohammed Alidu, born into the Bizung lineage of talking drum chiefs of Northern Ghana; Clarence Bekker, singer/songwriter of surinam/dutch nationality currently living in Barcelona and Grandpa, who has been a New Orleans street icon for decades.

“His music and comforting presence have grown into thousands of hearts throughout the years. His voice reminds us all that music can help the soul persevere many hardships,” Burditt said of Grandpa. “We’re assured there will be some very special guests gracing the stage that evening as well, so it’s sure to be an exciting show.”

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