In May of 2012, I was honored to represent the United States in our State Department’s Arts Envoy Program in Swaziland, Africa. In conjunction with the U.S. Embassy and my colleague, Greg Engle, we gave multiple guitar and songwriting demonstrations and performed concerts for people of all ages. Many of the children we worked with were AIDS orphans. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV and AIDS in the world. A staggering 15% of the population are AIDS orphans.
The highlight of my visit was a performance at the Bushfire International Festival of the Arts. At the festival we performed with the Swazi duo, Dusty and Stones, and 34 children from the SOS Village Children’s Choir from the AIDS orphanage in Mbabane. This would prove to be one the most profound musical experiences of my life. Throughout my trip I noticed the guitars provided by the schools to the underprivileged children in the cities were mostly unplayable. In the orphanages outside of the city, the children had never seen anyone play guitar before and had never had the chance to play one. I have a lasting image of driving away from an orphanage down a long, dirt road. A group of children, who had seenus play earlier, began waving and playing “air-guitar” as we passed. This was all the inspiration I would need.