Texas Congressman sees new law pushing world toward music instead of missiles
WASHINGTON – Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, was asked in 2014 at a South By Southwest panel about the power of music to change the world.
“I think rock and roll can be a very effective weapon and tool against oppression,” McCaul said at the time, “because that’s what this country is about.”
The Recording Academy’s Acting Chief of Advocacy and Public Policy, Todd Dupler, says those discussions continued and culminated in this year’s bill to strengthen the State Department’s music exchange programs.
The McCaul-backed proposal was included in the annual defense policy legislation passed as Congress wrapped up its 2022 session.
Dupler noted that the State Department already has an office dedicated to its existing cultural exchange programs.
“But we really wanted to do something to amplify the work that they do especially around music exchange programs and programs that are meant to further peace building efforts, conflict resolution and mutual understanding,” Dupler said. “And we just strongly believe that music can be that bridge.”
The new law aims to push the State Department to foster public-private partnerships for those music-related exchanges. Consider an award to honor artists advancing peace abroad and additional mentoring and networking opportunities for international youth.
The law requires the State Department to develop and report to Congress a strategy for achieving progress in those areas.
Musicians at all levels can be part of the program, from global superstars like Bono to those with far fewer resources to reach a global audience. And the hope is that more artists from other countries can come and experience American culture and bring it back home.
“Music helps build relationships, but it can also bring attention to issues and educate people about things they might not pay attention to,” Dupler said.
He noted this year’s Grammy Awards included a message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and a performance by Ukrainian musicians. He also mentioned the plight of young Afghans evacuated so they could continue their music studies abroad in the face of a Taliban crackdown.
“Music really helps shine a light in places that really need that light,” he said.
Dupler’s family moved to Houston when he was in high school, and he graduated from Baylor University before moving to Washington, D.C., where he worked for several Texas Republican lawmakers: Rep. Kevin Brady and former Rep. Lamar Smith, as well as former Sen. Phil Gramm.
“No matter what your political persuasion is, you have a favorite song, you have an artist or music that’s really meaningful to you,” Dupler said. “That’s how we’re able to pass laws like this in a Congress that’s so polarized and fractured, where so little gets done.”
McCaul has talked about how he started playing guitar on his own in high school and still enjoys it today, mostly as a form of meditation. He says he likes to walk from place to place in Austin and identifies Kacey Musgraves and Patty Griffin as a couple of his favorite artists.
McCaul is expected to take over as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next Congress.
He has defended the use of music as “soft power” and compared it to drone strikes when it comes to defeating toxic ideologies.
“In both good times and bad, music has encouraged, inspired and united people of all backgrounds and cultures; that’s why they call it the universal language,” McCaul said in a statement.Act of Peace Through Musical Diplomacy will harness that unique power of music to advance US foreign policy goals.”
Dupler said McCaul is an effective champion of the cause in part because of his senior position on the Foreign Affairs Committee, but also because of his personal connections to music.
“It represents the live music capital of the world,” Dupler said.