A U.S. Ambassador's Parting Gift To Paraguay

James Cason

James Cason speaks at a press conference in Havana, Cuba, while a U.S. diplomat in the country in 2004. Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

James Cason has been a foreign-service officer for 38 years, representing the U.S. in Central and South America and as the chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba. As he leaves his post as the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, he's going out with a song. An entire CD's worth of them, actually.

The traditional folk album is sung entirely in the native Paraguayan language of Guarani, spoken by the vast majority of the country's population. The album title, Campo Jurado, translates to "The Field of Promises." It's been getting major play on local radio stations in Paraguay, turning the ambassador into something of a local celebrity.

"I never sang in my life until February," Cason says. "But my wife kept saying I sang well in the bathtub, and I should get out and sing. And it turned, eventually, into a record."

Cason spoke to Scott Simon about recording an entire album's worth of songs in a language he had to learn. He says he received a little encouragement from one of Paraguay's top operatic sopranos, Rebecca Arramendi.

"And she was the one that actually — one Monday, she said, 'Jim, could you come and sing with me at a major music festival on Thursday?'" Cason says. "And I said, 'Rebecca, I've never in my life sung in any language.' So I said I would go and sing with her... and I sang the only four songs I knew in Guarani, and the people stood up and applauded, and loved it. And so I said, 'I can do this. I'll learn some more songs.'"

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