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Cablegate: Ericka Ovette and Paul Pieper Dazzle Syrians with American

VZCZCXYZ0018
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #0432/01 1691442
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 171442Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5088
INFO RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 7333
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 4934

UNCLAS DAMASCUS 000432

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, NEA/PPD, ECA/FO, ECA/PE/C/CU, R

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO SY XF OEXC SCUL
SUBJECT: ERICKA OVETTE AND PAUL PIEPER DAZZLE SYRIANS WITH AMERICAN
JAZZ

1. SUMMARY: Against a backdrop of bilateral tension and violence
in Lebanon, Ericka Ovette and Paul Pieper's visit to Syria brought
American music back to Damascus and proved that we can promote
American culture even as the SARG sabotages other Embassy events.
Ovette and Pieper reached an impressive number of Syrians from a
wide variety of backgrounds. The duo restarted musical cooperation
with the Higher Institute of Music and connected with local talent
and audiences thirsting for contact with authentic American
musicians. END SUMMARY.

2. After a nearly four-year hiatus, an ECA Performing Arts
Initiative grant reinvigorated our musical programming in Damascus
overnight. Unlike previous years, the Syria government (SARG)
presented no obstacles to the program. Even with the outbreak of
violence in Lebanon and U.S. condemnation of the Syrian role,
contacts at the Ministry of Culture remained receptive to more
cultural programming in Syria.

3. Ericka Ovette and Paul Pieper descended on Damascus for a
six-day visit that received extensive coverage in both private and
government media and reopened doors for the Embassy to Syria's large
community of musicians and music lovers. Reaching audiences in
diverse venues, the performers prompted a unified response: We have
missed American cultural programs and we want more of them. This
sentiment was affirmed when Ovette and Pieper's two-hour public
concert filled a local theater to standing-room-only capacity,
reaching an audience of 800 people.

---------------
Reopening Doors
---------------

4. Ovette and Pieper conducted a series of master classes at
Syria's Higher Institute of Music. In a sign of institutional
approval, the Director participated in the first hour of their
program with vocalists and guitarists. Local media covered the
classes, revelling not only in the intimate musical give-and-take
between Ovette, Pieper and their Syrian pupils, but also drawn by
the opportunity to interview American jazz musicians on their
musical philosophies and expertise. Students enthusiastically
responded when Ovette and Pieper swapped seats and became the
students for a tutorial in oriental singing and oriental musical
tradecraft. This heart-felt exchange played well here, as Syrians
responded not only to the jazz duet's talent but also their sincere
interest in expanding musical horizons. Upon conclusion of their
last master class, the Director of the Higher Institute of Music
asked Ovette and Pieper to write up their impressions and comments
on their experience at the Institute.

------------
Media Blitz
------------

5. Sensing media willingness to extend coverage of cultural issues,
Embassy Damascus crafted an aggressive press outreach campaign to
publicize our first public concert in nearly four years. (We
specifically avoided highlighting the Embassy's role in bringing
the duo, however.) Both state-run media and private stations
clammored for the opportunity to speak with Ovette and Pieper.
Coverage of the master classes, as well as the main concert, focused
on the uniquely American attributes of jazz, as well as on Ovette
and Pieper's own personal musical philosophies.

6. The media placements gave Ovette and Pieper a forum to discuss
the importance of jazz as an American institution and to provide
journalists with a mini-tutorial on the historical significance of
the five African-American jazz vocalists to whom they pay tribute
during their show. Themes like freedom, peace, and civil rights
were woven into Ovette and Pieper's comments and were reported
verbatim in the local press. Ovette and Pieper expressed directly
to Syrians their appreciation for their hospitality, warmth and
friendliness.

7. Syrians warmly received Ovette and Pieper, reflecting the
general desire for a better relationship with the U.S. and more
cultural engagement. The local correspondent of the widely-read
tabloid "Baladna" commented to Emboff that his interview with Ericka
and Paul had received the most hits on the Baladna website on the
day after their main concert on Sunday, May 11. He attributed this
achievement to Syrians' hunger for American musicians and culture.

8. Private TV station al-Dunya recorded an hour long interview with
Pieper and Ovette then recorded the entire public concert. They
began airing the whole package as soon as the live event ended.

9. COMMENT: Ovette and Pieper's visit to Damascus was the highest
profile cultural programming we have done in recent years and
highlighted a continuing hunger in the Syrian public for more.
Tensions between Washington and Damascus remain, but the absence of


official SARG intervention suggests that there may now be more
willingness to permit American cultural activities. We will
continue to exploit this opening for as long as it continues. END
COMMENT.

CORBIN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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