About the Author: Ann Stock serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.
As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning on July 4, music can be a valuable means to convey American values and build bridges between the United States and people around the globe. For example, through The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program, every year the U.S. State Department sends American roots music groups around the world to reach out to foreign audiences who might otherwise be unable to experience live American music. This year, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center, is sending 10 hip-hop, gospel, bluegrass, blues, and jazz groups to perform and to lead workshops and master classes in more than 43 countries.
During their travels, the Rhythm Road musicians actively engage with foreign audiences, offering them a chance to get to know the musicians as people as well as artists. Though the artists travel to share their music and demonstrate the commonalities that Americans share with people all over the world, they also learn from their experiences and take that knowledge and insight back to share with others in the United States. Often the connections these musicians make influence their work for years to come. For example, Chen Lo and the Liberation Family, a group that toured in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria this spring, continues to work closely with a Lebanese DJ they met during their program in Beirut. And the Little Joe McLerran Quartet, which this year visited Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman, hopes to continue to experiment with a number of Arabic rhythms and modes that they learned during jam sessions in several countries.
In an effort to reach even broader audiences, many of this year's musicians also have been active bloggers in their few free moments between performances and educational activities. Readers worldwide can find a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the challenges the Eli Yamin Blues Band faced while visiting regions of Chile hardest hit by the 2010 earthquake, or they can learn about what happened during the Mark Sherman-Tim Horner Quartet's workshops and master classes in Asia. As the musicians' blogs and the enthusiastic audiences for Rhythm Road concerts and workshops demonstrate, music offers a common language that transcends borders.
People-to-people engagement such as The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad are a critical part of "smart power" in twenty-first century diplomacy. As Secretary of State Clinton said in her interview, "I think that we have to use every tool at our disposal. So we move a lot of different pieces on the chessboard every day. It's multi-dimensional chess, if you will. And our cultural diplomacy is an important part of that."