Diplomacy Through Music in Afghanistan

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Herat, Afghanistan – June 5, 2012

My name is Peyton Tochterman. I’m a musician from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I make my living writing, teaching and performing American folk music–the music that tells stories in notes, chords and verse about who we are and what we Americans are all about. And I’m now in war-torn Afghanistan.

Today, I’m with two friends and fellow musicians, Gary Green and Radoslav Lorkovic, in the shadows of the Hindu Kush, in one of the most difficult, dangerous and inhospitable places on our planet. We didn’t come here to climb the mountains.

We left Charlottesville, Virginia on May 26 and headed off for Afghanistan–a 30 hour “travel adventure” on two commercial airlines and then military aircraft “in theatre.” When we boarded our first flight at Dulles International Airport, I had my two best hand-made Rockbridge guitars, a little more than $131 dollars in my bank account and a solemn promise (by email, no less!!) that someone from the United States Government would meet us in Kabul. Talk about an act of faith!

The U.S. State Department invited us here as “cultural ambassadors.” What I didn’t know until we arrived was that I was THE Spokesman, representing The United States and showing how diplomacy can be shaped by the musical arts–even in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Given all I have read and heard about this place for more than a decade, I did not anticipate the magnificent reception awaiting us.

Since we have been here, news reports all across Afghanistan have complimented us for our “mini-concerts,” seminars and a “historic” performance at The Citadel (built by Alexander the Great) here in Herat. Critics in neighboring Iran were somewhat less gratifying. The Iranian press described our music as “dangerous” and “evil.”

Thankfully, the audiences and musicians we have met here in Afghanistan have been more appreciative. In little more than a week we have already met thousands of Afghans and found them to be kind, generous, hospitable, talented and honorable. They take great pride in their heritage and culture, but they also have a thirst for American folk music, for the stories we tell, our instruments and the way we play. The Afghan musicians with whom we played are some of the best in the world and were eager to share their masterful techniques and songs.

Some might ask “What difference can a folk singer from the Blue Ridge Mountains make in a tortured place like Afghanistan?” It’s a valid question–partly answered by one of the State Department officers who said our visit did “more for diplomacy between Afghanistan and the United States than any diplomat had done, more than any road that was built, or any power plant that was constructed in the last year.”

If nothing else, we are returning home reassured that music really is a universal language that can unite diverse peoples. We have proven to ourselves and others–U.S. and allied troops, elected officials, diplomats, students, children, and people of every walk of life – there are no borders for good music. We are all connected through music and we must continue to celebrate this connection, this language that is so important not just to our own culture, but also to cultures around this fascinating world of ours.

Download “Smile” off Peyton’s Tochterman’s debut album A New World for FREE with redemption code UTNEFREE.

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