Singing The Blues, A U.S. Envoy Hopes To Boost Ties With Ecuador : Parallels In South America, left-wing governments hostile to the U.S. are tossing out diplomats or shunning them entirely. In Ecuador, U.S. Ambassador Adam Namm is using music to do something about it.
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Singing The Blues, A U.S. Envoy Hopes To Boost Ties With Ecuador

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Singing The Blues, A U.S. Envoy Hopes To Boost Ties With Ecuador

Singing The Blues, A U.S. Envoy Hopes To Boost Ties With Ecuador

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

OK. Some American ambassadors stationed in South American nations headed by left-wing governments have faced their own version of hostility. Some have even been expelled. In Ecuador, the top U.S. envoy has found a novel way to reach out to his host country by playing keyboards in an Ecuadorian blues band. John Otis has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Shortly before taking the stage at a Quito bar, the Ecuadorian band Samay Blues plugs in for a sound check.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OTIS: Some of the bar-goers tonight are Americans. That's because the word is out. U.S. Ambassador Adam Namm will be sitting in on keyboards.

U.S. AMBASSADOR ADAM NAMM: I'm glad to get out of the office once in a while. Thanks for coming. I need my bench. They gave me a chair, and I've got to find one of my roadies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OTIS: Namm took his first piano lesson at age 5. After joining the U.S. Foreign Service, he played with bands in the Dominican Republic and Pakistan, then hooked up with Samay Blues here in Ecuador. The band practices in the ambassador's official residence where Namm's bodyguards helped set up the amplifiers and plug-in microphones. Besides playing keyboards, Namm often sings lead vocal.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAMAY BLUES: (Singing) Yeah, love my baby like the finest wine. Stick with her until the end of time.

OTIS: For Namm, playing with the band several nights a week is a way to break away from traditional, buttoned-down diplomacy.

NAMM: It's a great way to connect. So sports, art, whatever your passion is, get out and share it because it you shouldn't be the stiff ambassador who only shows up at speeches and cocktail parties.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OTIS: But it turns out singing the blues is one of Namm's dwindling options. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is a fierce critic of the United States. He expelled the previous U.S. ambassador and has refused to meet with Namm. He's also kicked out U.S. military advisers and aid workers.

Elsewhere in Latin America, it's also been tough sledding for U.S. diplomats. The left-wing governments in Bolivia and Venezuela have expelled American ambassadors. In September, Kevin Sullivan, the top U.S. diplomat in Argentina, was nearly given the boot for commenting on that country's debt default, which involves U.S. hedge funds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Here in Ecuador, President Correa sometimes lashes out at Namm. In this speech, Correa warned the ambassador not to misbehave after Namm criticized a government crackdown on the news media. Namm plays down the conflict.

NAMM: The U.S. relationship with Ecuador certainly has its difficulties, and it's had its difficulties over the last several years. But I think both governments recognize we have a lot more in common than differences. And it behooves both countries to work together.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OTIS: So does all this blues diplomacy make any difference? Moises David, the drummer for Samay Blues, says Namm's soulful performances help debunk the caricature of U.S. ambassadors as overbearing imperialists.

MOISES DAVID: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "Namm is so warm and communicates so well with the people that they want to come back and see him," David says. "He gives diplomacy a new image."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OTIS: Music has also helped Namm break the ice with Ecuadorian officials, like Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, who delights in both slamming Washington and in singing.

NAMM: He asked me to play. He had an Ecuadorian band, and I played some piano. And he sang, and it was a great experience. It was - actually, we played "Besame Mucho."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OTIS: The song was an intriguing choice given the bad blood between the two governments. In Spanish, "Besame Mucho" means kiss me a lot. On this night, however, Namm and his bandmates closed their set with another classic, "Roadhouse Blues" by The Doors. For NPR News, I'm John Otis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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