Gina Chavez, Under Secretary For Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Liz Allen, and the Recording Academy's Ruby Marchand
Gina Chavez, Under Secretary For Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Liz Allen, and the Recording Academy's Ruby Marchand at SXSW 2024

Photo: Krystle W. Norman


SXSW 2024: The People's Playlist Panel Discusses Music As Diplomacy

At South By Southwest, The People's Playlist panel brought together U.S. Under Secretary of State Liz Allen, singer/songwriter Gina Chavez, and Recording Academy Chief Awards & Industry Officer Ruby Marchand, to discuss how music can build bridges.

Advocacy/Mar 13, 2024 - 09:31 pm

Singer/songwriter Gina Chavez has witnessed firsthand the ways music can build bridges.

In 2017, the Austin-based artist was getting ready to perform on a stage more than seven thousand miles away in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Not long before, she hardly could've pointed to Uzbekistan on a map. Now, she was standing in historic Registan Square, framed by three centuries-old madrasahs (Isalmic schools), getting ready to sing "Nazar, Nazar" — a song in Uzbek. From the opening note, she watched the crowd come alive. 

"All of a sudden, these older women in the audience stand up and they're just dancing like crazy," she recalled, during a SXSW 2024 panel discussion titled The People's Playlist. 

Overnight, Chavez and her band became an Uzbek sensation. People were stopping them on the street, showing them videos of their set, and following their bus. Thanks to that one performance, Chavez now found herself connected to a place she'd been completely unfamiliar with a year before. 

Chavez's story is just one example of the way music can be a tool for diplomacy — the theme of the South By Southwest panel The People's Playlist. The panel featured Chavez, Liz Allen, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, and was moderated by Recording Academy Chief Awards & Industry Officer Ruby Marchand. 

"The goal in building relationships around the world is to understand each other better," said Allen. "When we can understand each other better, we're able to have conversations that lead to better outcomes — whether they be policy outcomes, humanitarian outcomes, or economic outcomes."

Chavez is certainly proof of the power of global relationship building. She has visited 14 countries as a cultural ambassador through her work with American Voices and American Music Abroad — a program sponsored by the U.S. State Department to promote cultural collaboration. Last fall, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that the Department would be expanding those efforts by partnering with the Recording Academy to launch the Global Diplomacy Initiative — a wide-ranging effort to promote peace and diplomacy through music.

The initiative was born out of the bipartisan Promoting Peace, Education, And Cultural Exchange (PEACE) Through Music Diplomacy Act, signed into law in 2022. PEACE includes global exchange opportunities like the American Music Mentorship Program, which will welcome its first cohort this fall. These partnerships aim to create a thriving music ecosystem across the world, elevating creatives, fostering their talents, and creating more opportunities for them to succeed.

"This is a major step forward in terms of the Recording Academy and the State Dept. working together," said Marchand. "It's an opportunity to come up with programs for not only music creators, but music professionals all over the world."

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Music has long been used as a tool for diplomacy. As the Under Secretary reminded the audience, the U.S. began sending jazz musicians around the world as cultural ambassadors during the Cold War. Legendary acts like Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington were just a few of the musicians who became the sort of "godfathers" of the cultural exchange programs the State Department has continued to sponsor today, all building on the belief that music is a universal language.

"When we are seeing division and conflict, music becomes really important to express what people are feeling, often in a way that's not as overt, or, frankly, as risky," said Allen. "In some societies, people can be punished for speaking their truth. Music is a way for those views to be incorporated into conversations about solutions."

As an ambassador, Chavez doesn't see her role as a way of confronting differences, but finding a path forward to connection. As a proud queer artist, her role has sparked several unique opportunities to visit countries like Saudi Arabia, where, at the time, it was illegal for her and her band to perform in public (they instead performed for a crowd in the U.S. Embassy). During her trip to Uzbekistan, Chavez also knew that the country had strict laws criminalizing the LGBTQ+ community. At the time, she didn't make any waves, but a few years later, a friend at the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent asked if she would be interested in sending a video for Pride Month. 

She sang "Nazar, Nazar" again, capping off the recording by waving the pride flag. 

"We essentially broke the internet in Uzbekistan," said Chavez. "And the coolest part about that was the messages that I received privately from people saying, 'Thank you so much for saying that,' or 'My mom just came out to me and I love her, but I don't know what to tell her."

That impact was only possible, she said, because of the time she'd been able to spend in Uzbekistan years earlier, making connections with people and performing their music, in their language. 

"We're really proud of what these programs do," said Allen. "We really do care about reaching young people around the world, who otherwise don't have a home to feel seen. We're not looking to export the way Americans make music, we're looking to plant seeds all over the world." 

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Texas Chapter Advocacy Day
Texas Chapter Advocacy Day


Texas Chapter Advocacy Day Unites Music Champions in the Lone Star State

On March 30, the Recording Academy’s Texas Chapter hosted their annual advocacy day, empowering music advocates to call for creator-friendly legislative reform

Advocacy/Apr 2, 2021 - 09:43 pm

Over the past year, Texas's beloved music scene has been dangerously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, being the state with the highest venue closures out of any other. With music venues closed, crew members underemployed, managers with no gigs to book, and musicians with no stages to perform on, the Texas music scene and those that make it go-round have continued to suffer over the past year. 

Prior to the pandemic, the vibrant Texas music industry accounted for 210,000 jobs. And more than just contributing to state economy, Texas's rich musical heritage is admired and valued nationally and around the world. Last month's 63rd GRAMMY Awards amplified and celebrated the tremendous music exported by Texans in the past year, including music from Beyoncé, Black Pumas, Megan Thee Stallion, Post Malone, Ruthie Foster, Snarky Puppy, and many more.  While Corpus Christi's Selena and Dallas's DJ Spinderella with Salt-N-Pepa both received the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award. 

For those familiar with the Texas music scene, it is clear that most music creators earn their living from touring and gigs. Since that has been at standstill for over a year now, the ripple effect from this lost revenue has impacted artists and their teams, crews, music venues, and many others in the music ecosystem, including music manufacturers and record producers.

The Texas Chapter understood the dire financial outlooks facing members of their creative community and decided to take action. On Tuesday, March 30, the Texas Chapter and its members united to host and participate in the virtual "Texas Advocacy Day."

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Today, our <a href="">@RecordingAcad</a> Texas Chapter members are gathering virtually for Texas Chapter Advocacy Day. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; GRAMMY Advocacy (@GRAMMYAdvocacy) <a href="">March 30, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

More than 75 members state-wide, including past and current GRAMMY® nominees and winners, came together for Texas Music Advocacy Day and met with over 30 offices. The event was sponsored by State Representative Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) and State Senator Carol Alvarado (D-Houston). Participants representing the Academy's Texas Chapter included multi-GRAMMY nominee Bun B, prominent producer and multi-GRAMMY winner Larry "S1" Griffin, Latin GRAMMY nominee and artist Gina Chavez, multi-GRAMMY nominee and Gospel artist Brian Courtney Wilson, GRAMMY-nominated record producer and Recording Academy Chapter Trustee Tim Palmer, Recording Academy Chapter President Carlos Alvarez, and many more of note.

While this year's event was held virtually, many members participated in the event and used their voices to call on their elected officials to enact meaningful relief programs for the struggling music ecosystem. "Many of the legislators need to be made aware of the fact that the 'ripple effect' of the pandemic is only now becoming fully visible in our industry," said Palmer. "As a producer and mixer, I worked through the early part of the pandemic with no issues at all, but now I'm beginning to see a change. Without live show income, many artists basically have no money left to be able to spend on production, mixing and studio costs. The return of live music is so separately needed as earning a living wage from streaming is still largely a fantasy to most artists. We all really need to step up and advocate for our music community and get them the help they need and deserve. Texas Advocacy Day was hopefully a step closer to our goals."

The music community was one of the first sectors shuttered by the pandemic and will be one of the last to return to normal operations. Understanding what is at risk, Texas Chapter advocates lobbied on behalf of three key provisions to help assist the ailing ecosystem. First, participants requested that the state legislators re-appropriate state funding received under the CARES Act to organizations, like MusiCares, in order to better support local creators. Next, advocates shared their support of H.B. 3836, which protects both creators and consumers from online criminals who disseminate and distribute unauthorized music. Finally, creators urged policymakers to oppose H.B. 434, which removes the fine arts credit requirement for high school students.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Texas musicians! Today I’m working with <a href="">@GRAMMYAdvocacy</a> to ask State Representatives to help Texas music by creating a $10M TX Music Recovery Fund, stop illegal ? piracy, and save music in TX schools. You can help too: <a href=""></a> 1/5 <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Nakia (@Nakia) <a href="">March 30, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

"The Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy has heard the stories of our members and continues to advocate for and serve our music community as best we can. That's why we organized Texas Music Advocacy Day on March 30th, while our state lawmakers are in session, so we can talk to them about the ways they can support Texas music," said Executive Director Christee Albino Bird. "We're asking for additional relief needed for music professionals as we continue down this long road to recovery, support for Fine Arts programs in public schools, and to support bills that protect creators' from online theft and that help music venues recover from the pandemic."

Texas Advocacy Day proved to be an incredible moment for the music community, and legislators are now brief on the needs of the music community. "We are doing everything we can to support the music industry. You have an advocate here," said Representative Hunter.

Thank you to all the music advocates who participated in this year's activation. The Recording Academy and the Texas Chapter look forward to hosting an in-person advocacy day in Austin next year.

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