Play music on the porch

Tinashe William Masangudza, right, and his band Afro-acoustic outfit Gwevedzi, have participated in Play Music on the Porch Day from Zimbabwe since 2018. (Photo courtesy of Clear Sight Zutography)

What if for one day everything stopped and we all just listened to the music? Think about it. If the whole world paused for a day to listen to the music, to play music together, what would stop? What would start? It’s awfully hard to harbor ill will while singing with another person. When you hear an aria by Verdi or the funky brass groove of a second line, you don’t need a shared language or a shared culture. Something wells up inside you; something makes your shoulders start swaying. What is that something? It’s the drumbeat of human hearts finding common time with the music. It’s shared humanity.

Saturday is worldwide Play Music on the Porch Day, and founder Brian Mallman, an L.A.-based artist, doesn’t think it’s some kind of utopian fantasy to imagine a day where the world pauses for a moment to make music together and to share music with others. That’s because he’s already made it a reality.

“So far this year we have people from 74 countries and over 1,350 cities worldwide registered to participate in Play Music on the Porch Day,” Mallman said. “At this point, it’s created its own momentum. It’s a movement.”

The idea was born six years ago, when Mallman got the itch to create a “global collaborative art piece” as a conduit for creating a peace-making movement. But the idea wasn’t to pour massive amounts of energy into it. In fact, it was just the opposite.

“It was based on the idea of taking action on a regular basis towards a goal, that goal being a better world for all of us,” he explained. “But it was taking action in a similar way to brushing your teeth or making your bed; something small that you do everyday.”

He began by using hashtags on Instagram to search for stringed instruments from around the world, then connected with players by reaching out on social media and explaining the project. Everyday for a year, he said, he spent a little time using social media to learn about instruments and musical traditions from around the world. He learned of the taus, a bowed Sikh instrument shaped like a peacock; the tube zither from island cultures, including Madagascar and Indonesia; the array of instruments from the son jaracho music of Mexico. As more and more people got on board, the idea for an international day of playing music on the porch — or yard, or stoop, or anywhere outside, really — caught on faster than Mallman had even imagined. Officially the last Saturday in August, Play Music on the Porch Day has brought people all over the world outside to join in a global, shared act of creating music in the spirit of peace and connection.

“Music is a universal language. It gives energy to each and every person regardless of age, color, religion or whatever they believe in. It connects us all as one,” said Tinashe William Masangudza, a Zimbabwean singer and multi-instrumentalist from the Afro-acoustic band Gwevedzi.

Masangudza, who credits his grandfather’s playing of the Zimbabwean mbira, along with “something I was born with inside,” for his early interest in making music first learned of Play Music on the Porch Day when someone tagged Mallman in one of the band’s posts. The two became friends, and Masangudza and his band began participating in Play Music on the Porch Day in 2018.

“It was awesome,” said Masangudza of the experience. “We called Brian on Whatsapp, a video call, and we played here in Zimbabwe. It was around 4 a.m. our time, 7 or 8 p.m. in L.A. Play Music on the Porch Day is a platform whereby it unites people from different countries around the world. You all just want to play music and fill your soul with music.”

Gwevedzi, his band, is currently collaborating with a Brazilian opera singer now living in Portugal, Marília Zangrandi Rocha, thanks to connecting through Play Music on the Porch Day.

Zangrandi Rocha, a lyric soprano, learned of the project when she stumbled across a post on Instagram. When she took a look at the account’s profile and discovered what the day was all about she was captivated by the idea. She offered to translate some of the posts into Portuguese to help spread the idea to Portuguese-speaking parts of the world. The first year she participated, it was her father’s birthday, so she sang to him and the world from the family’s balcony.

“Especially this year, with the pandemic, we need Play Music on the Porch Day more than ever,” she said. “During the lockdown, art kept us surviving, kept us struggling, against all odds, against the news, helping us to feel that we are meant to survive. We need to look inside ourselves and ask what can we give to the world.”

Music, she says, is something that we all have to give to the world, whether as a player or simply as a listener, and provides a valuable tool for creating a connection with others that we so desperately need in the modern, technology-filled world.

“Music is one of the few chances that we have to speak, and be heard, and most of all, to hear,” she said. “Right now, it’s more and more difficult for people to listen to each other. When we listen and try to understand one another, we gain a lot. We can grow a lot, not just as individuals but as a society. I think music helps us do this.”

Masangudza also emphasized the therapeutic importance of Play Music on the Porch Day this year, and the community it fosters.

“We need to encourage more people to be part of this community, especially these times, during which the world has been affected by the pandemic,” Masangudza said. “Music can heal us. Your mind has to rest sometimes. If you're stressed, music will lift your spirits. Many people are already home, with their families. They can just go outside on their porch and play music.”

And don’t be scared off if you don’t consider yourself a seasoned musical pro, added Zangrandi Rocha.

“Do it, do it, do it!” she exclaimed. “If you are new to music, you are giving people a chance to watch a flower blossom.”