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Leveraging Hip Hop in US foreign policy

March 11, 2012 1 comment

From Al Jazeera and the longer article,  “Race, Rap, and Raison d’Etat” by Hisham Aidi.

The US government wants to improve its tarnished image abroad by sending out ‘hip hop envoys’ [GALLO/GETTY]

In April 2010, the US State Department sent a rap group named Chen Lo and The Liberation Family to perform in Damascus, Syria.

Following Chen Lo’s performance, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was asked by CBS News about US diplomacy’s recent embrace of hip hop. “Hip hop is America,” she said, noting that rap and other musical forms could help “rebuild the image” of the United States. “You know it may be a little bit hopeful, because I can’t point to a change in Syrian policy because Chen Lo and the Liberation Family showed up. But I think we have to use every tool at our disposal.”

The State Department began using hiphop as a tool in the mid-2000s, when, in the wake of Abu Ghraib and the resurgence of the Taliban, Karen Hughes, then undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, launched an initiative called Rhythm Road. The programme was modelled on the jazz diplomacy initiative of the Cold War era, except that in the “War on Terror”, hip hop would play the central role of countering “poor perceptions” of the US.

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Obama sends Muslim country singer to Middle East

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

From my friends at Layalina Productions

The Sound of Music and Public Diplomacy

A statement released by the Department of State in April revealed that the Obama administration is providing funding for a music tour in the Middle East by an Egyptian-American country and pop singer, as part of its attempt to improve the Unites State’s relationship with the Muslim world and promote “respect for diverse cultures, faiths and traditions.”

This latest public diplomacy effort, inspired by the President’s Cairo speech, is aimed at building bridges between the two cultures through providing Middle Eastern audiences with an example of a rising American musical talent, and of America’s diversity of faith and heritage.

The 32-year-old singer/songwriter, Kareem Salama, headed to Cairo on April 26th for the tour’s opening performance, accompanied by three other accomplished musicians: Dan Workman, JJ Worthen and Michael Whitebread. The band is expected to be on tour for a whole month, visiting six other countries including Morocco, Kuwait, Bahrain, Syria, Jerusalem and Jordan.

Sending “America’s first Muslim country singer” to the Middle East is regarded as yet another State Department “soft-power” initiative to improve “Washington’s dented reputation across the Middle East,” writes James Reinel at The National.

Art advocates believe that beneficial outcomes may result from utilizing art as a cultural diplomacy initiative. According to Vishakha Desai, the president of the New York-based Asia Society, art has the ability to “humanize and create a more nuanced understanding” of the other and could be utilized to ease tensions and facilitate communication.

Despite the new budget set aside by the State Department for such efforts, Desai believes that funding is still lacking. “Money remains a huge issue. Even under the current administration with its tremendous interest in using arts and culture to advance public diplomacy, the truth is, there isn’t enough support,” she complains.

Still, Salama seems to show genuine interest in spreading the image of his homeland as an “inclusive country that welcomes newcomers” of all faiths. He maintains, “I want to learn from the people we meet, share my music, share my personal experiences and break some stereotypes and preconceived ideas about being an American Muslim,” adding that introducing country music in the region, if it happens, is a secondary goal.

During the Morocco segment of the tour, the band’s drummer, Mohsin Mohi-ud-Din, expressed his hope that their work would challenge the general misconception that all US Muslims suffer under “Islamophobic oppression,” reports The National. He explained, “Muslims have more freedom in America than they do in most Arab nations.”

In similar vein, a new Arab hip-hop movement has emerged consisting of rappers from across the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, who “have joined forces to spread their message and their music to audiences worldwide,” writes Joshua Asen for Foreign Policy. Some of the artists behind this movement include Shadia Mansour, the group DAM, Lowkey and the Narcicyst.

Asen describes this Arab hip-hop revolution, which Hamas tried to shut down, as a “powerful and natural ally.” He suggests that the State Department should rethink its approach to utilizing hip-hop, which “embodies both the spirit of diplomacy and that of armed resistance.”

However, Asen warns that the exclusion of the Palestinian territories and Gaza on the tour by the State Department may have seemed like the safer option, yet it comes at the expense of sacrificing the “best opportunity for real impact.”

In Somalia, an 11-member rap band called Waayaha Cusub, including one female, has been exiled to Kenya because its lyrics encourage Somalis to stand up to the Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, reports Asharq-Alawsat.

The group’s founder, Shine Abdullahi, who has survived an assassination attempt said, “We will wipe out the fear of our people that no one can speak out against [Somali Islamist insurgent group] Al-Shabaab… They misread our religion and kill people.”

Adbullahi remains optimistic that the band’s work may contribute to rid the country of the insurgent group. “This is real war. Those who refuse to honor their prophet cannot win,” he said.

US Embassy Sponsors Hip Hop in Nepal

April 23, 2010 3 comments

From the US Embassy in Kathmandu (courtesy of CAO Terry White)

From March 1-6, the U.S. Embassy sponsored Hip-Hop themed workshops, master classes, and concerts, reaching more than 2,500 Nepali youth.

The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu sponsored three hip hop artists from the Global Block Foundation targeting youth in Pokhara (approximately 200km west of Kathmandu) and the capital Kathmandu from March 1 to 6, 2010.  This program was a part of the State Department’s Performing Arts Initiative.

In Pokhara 90 hip-hop enthusiasts attended workshops and more than 1,000 students enjoyed public exhibitions at their school premises.  In Kathmandu 320 youth hip-hop enthusiasts attended six different workshops, master classes and lectures with themes ranging from “Origins of Hip-Hop” to “Basic Rhyme/Positive Expression.” In addition, 600 students in Kathmandu enjoyed an interactive public exhibition at their school. The group also participated in a jam session with local musicians in front of 250 music lovers. The Global Block Foundation’s program culminated in a night concert in conjunction with local artists and musicians with 300 audience members.

The participants were principally youth (particularly high school aged students), musicians, educators, rappers, and dancers. Approximately 30% of all participants were female.

Very glad to see Terry White keepin Hip Hop Diplomacy alive wherever he goes. More on this soon…