Jay-Z she is not, but when the U.S. ambassador to Laos took the stage at a music festival in the Laotian capital of Vientiane the other day she decided to try a medium not usually employed in diplomacy: She rapped. In Lao.
Eschewing the typical diplomatic pin-striped suit, Ambassador Karen Stewart, a.k.a. MC Karen ( as she later called herself on her Tumblr), rocked the mic with a backward baseball cap.
The event was the 5th Annual Street Jamz festival, held on Oct. 29 on the banks of the Mekong River, that is organized by a local arts group. Ambassador Stewart took the stage with Weirdo Heroes, a hip-hop trio from New York City that has been on a State Department-sponsored tour of the country to raise awareness about counterfeit prescription drugs.
According to a State Dept official: “The festival also included a graffiti art competition on the theme ‘fake drugs.’ The winning design will be featured on posters and shirts which will be distributed to area pharmacies to help educate consumers on the dangers of counterfeit medicines.”
I don’t understand a word of Lao, and efforts to find a translator have so far come up empty, but by the cheers of the crowd it appears the effort was well received.
Stewart described the experience on her Tumblr blog:
“The Embassy was one of the main sponsors of the event, so I was asked to give some remarks to open the concert. Well, I made a joke that, since it was a hip hop concert, I should try to do a rap (what was I thinking?). From there, the whole idea kind of snowballed, and next thing I knew, I was about to go onstage and deliver a rap to 500 teenagers,” she wrote.
“I was a little nervous, I have to admit. But thanks to some great coaching (and beat-boxing) from my young rapper friend MC Loko, I got through it okay. It seemed like the crowd really enjoyed it anyway… After my rap, I was kind of on a high, and it was really enjoyable to sit and listen to the artists who performed next. I can’t wait for next year’s Street Jamz!” Stewart added. Ambassador Stewart isn’t the first to prove career diplomats aren’t all boring pin-striped-suit types. Consider Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matt Bryza, who jumped over a flaming pile earlier this year to celebrate the Nowruz holiday in local style … and in a suit.