We can start by talking about what Selam is and what does Selam do?
Selam is a music organization founded 14 years ago by Teshome Wondimu. At that time, in 1997, there weren’t many organizers who presented ethnic minorities’s music in central Stockholm — if there were any, it was mostly Folkets Hus parties, where the artists came out to the suburbs and played only for small communities.
In the case of Swedish concert halls or music institutions, there was no interest in bringing any major alternative/ethnic artists. While there are concert halls in Stockholm that have been instructed to book such groups, at that time they were offering relatively homogeneous concerts, more homogeneous than today anyway, so Selam was born as a way to raise interest and awareness about minority music.
During the first years, Selam showcased mainly African music — naturally, seeing as Teshome has an Etiophian background. Then, when I started to work for the organisation, Selam had started to broaden to include some Latin concerts, mainly Salsa. Teshome had a clear view to expand more on the Latin side, and that is how I got involved.
I have been here at Selam for three years, and we continue to broaden our horizons. We have continued to bring in artists from Africa and Latin America. Selam has opened a door and a market for artists from those continents, and we have received good responses — even if it is a hard job because we are relatively few in the office, given that our shows are often large productions, but they have all been well received.
You really are doing an amazing job when it comes to showcasing more varied music. Is it hard to find artists you want to showcase?
We try to maintain a balance with what we do, we can not just go for big established names, but we also want to showcase small groups or newer groups, to display the fusion taking place between different music styles today. The global trend, the digital revolution, the meetings that take place across borders without the need to relocate yourself.
There is a lot going on and, as a music organizer, it’s a lot to keep up with. An incredible amount of music is launched not on a record, but online. It’s an exciting world we live in, and we are trying to navigate through it to find a variety to an audience that feels relevant, that feels necessary.
So what has been the most fun that Selam has managed to do up until now?
We have been able to get many of these large concert halls, and institutions with us on this. They have understood the value of bringing in an audience that is different, coming from the suburbs, coming from a different origin, that may come to the Stockholm Concert Hall for the first time or a rock club like Debaser Medis, or a small club as Fasching.
We have managed to get partners that believe that our work is important — much of our work is based on what we get from our good forces because it’s hard to do this as a commercial partner. We are an association, we are supported by the cultural support that is available to get. There, Selam, and especially Tesho, have been good at motivating and demonstrating an activity that deserves this support.
Of course, because what you do is really valuable. You give people an alternative to mainstream music.
When compared with rock and pop groups, we have a smaller setting — they can be four to five people on stage, usually coming from nearby countries or from Sweden itself. Our productions are quite different from that, our touring companies may include groups of 25 people, they come from Latin America or Africa.
Might not know English that well…
There are many instruments to be hired, many hotel rooms to be booked, transportation, many who need food. It’s very expensive productions that we do. It is hard to put together.
Even in marketing, we must often find new ways to reach out because our audience is so spread out over Stockholm and Sweden. It requires an extra effort to reach our main audience. We advertise in minority newspapers, community radio, in different languages. We really must make a great effort to spread our message. It is not always as easy as placing advertisements in a newspaper like Dagens Nyheter, which generally works for a specific audience.
Nor is it so that you can draw assumptions about minorities or nationalities for that matter — for example in the West African audience, or the Peruvian or Chilean audience, there are sub-groups and subcultures, and some who might love Salsa and others who would never go to a Salsa event. We must look at it on a micro level and ask ourselves, “Where are these people? Is there an interest at all?”
If you are a fan then you find what you like, but I would guess that the real challenge lies in getting people that aren’t fans to be able to spread this cultural experience.
You have it tough.
Yes. What we think is interesting is the meetings that occur on our productions. We, for example, have a Swedish audience who follows us, that tends to be curious about what we do, and they might take a gamble and come to one of our events.
Interesting encounters happen around our productions, between people of different ages, origins, different parts of Stockholm, there will be people from outside of Stockholm — some people come from Västerås.
We have also started doing concerts around the country. There are a lot of these meetings, we call them “global meetings”, that take place across borders and across ages, which is fun and gives us the strength to continue.