A Sound World: In Conversation with Gerald Seligman

With almost 30 years of experience in the world music industry, there are few things that Mr. Gerald Seligman can’t add to his ever expanding list of industry accolades. As the founder of EMI Hemisphere – one of the first extensive compilations of music of the world carried out by an international label – he ran the initiative successfully until 2000. He has produced or compiled over 100 releases, one of which was nominated for a Grammy. He has served as General Director for WOMEX, and is the President of his own company Caravan Arts Consultancy.

But most importantly, he is an individual driven by genuine passion and inspired by the belief that a better world is within humanity’s reach. A world united instead of segregated by their diversity, where multiculturalism is celebrated and not simply tolerated.

Over the past few weeks, IndiEarth conducted a showcase Call For Artists – inviting musicians to submit their work for the chance to perform at the Borneo World Music Expo. Now, with BWME  just around the corner – of which Gerald is the Director – we chatted a bit more with him about the expo, and about the purpose and passion that drives his work.

Gerald Seligman

IndiEarth: The work you do bringing the international community and different cultures together through art and music, exposing listeners to new sounds from around the globe – do you see this as a way of reconciling some rather disturbing political and social trends emerging in developed society today? According to you, how can music and culture perhaps be used as a way to address and reconcile these issues?
Gerald: All too often people in power and those who seek more of it use economic hard times to scapegoat the most vulnerable in our societies, the poor and the foreign. And there are whole masses of people who are gullible enough to be led to believe the responsibility for their suffering lies with these vulnerable peoples seeking a better life rather than with the corruption, the power, the greed, the policies of the very people who seek to divert attention away from themselves. It is made easier to do by the very fact of how segregated these other peoples are from the everyday life of most of the rest of the societies they find themselves in.

It would be nice to believe that simple access to others would bring understanding and a measure of enlightenment, but this isn’t so. People in close proximity are often in the greatest conflict. But it is important to expand access to other ideas, other people, other cultures as a way of enriching the dialogue and giving those who can think for themselves more to think about. So, while exposure doesn’t reconcile, it does enrich the cultural and intellectual environment and helps reach those who can be reachable and helps to show the absurdity, not only the harm, of the whole nationalist argument.

But beyond the political and social argument for supporting access to a broad variety of cultures is the sheer awe of what the human family creates, how surprising, how rich, how wonderful it is to be exposed to it. It is this that inspires most of us who work with traditions outside our own cultures – the sheer joy –  and it is entirely compatible with that bigger political picture, though not in any way subservient to it.

IndiEarth: As the Director for the Borneo World Music Expo, what is your vision for the conference?
Gerald: It is expensive for artists to travel, and artists, especially new one or ones who haven’t yet performed much outside their own regions, tend to have little money. The development of music Expos and the creation of touring networks has been an astonishing and successful development for the support of music. It very economically gathers together a great concentration of those who perform with those who can provide opportunities to do so.

But most of these markets are in Europe and North America, meaning that artists who live adjacently find it more affordable to come showcase. Those in Africa, the Caribbean and South America, for instance travel up to join their European and North American colleagues more easily. Since fewer of these Expos are in Asia, artists from the greater Asian region appear on the international circuit less frequently. It was time for this successful system for introducing artists to establish events in Asia to begin tapping into music scenes that are every bit as diverse, appealing and worthy of support as the scenes that have already made it into the world music scene.

But the mission for the Borneo World Music Expo is twofold: yes, bring concert and festival bookers in to hear the music, but also help support where it exists and create where it doesn’t the infrastructure for music careers. This is done by training artists about how local, regional and international touring functions, how to present themselves, how to professionalize. And by helping to stimulate the creation of managers and tour agents, local touring circuits and the like. Artists need more opportunities if they are going to live from their art, and their most important constituencies will always be the ones closest to them. So more opportunities must be created for them to play.

IndiEarth: What scope do you see for the future of the Asian music market – in terms of cross cultural collaborations and its future as an emerging music market?
Gerald: As anyone familiar with the variety of music from Asia knows, it is only access and expense that has kept so much of the best of if from being exposed to broader international audiences. The potential is as great as the countless traditions that exist in these regions — huge.

IndiEarth: What do you see for the future of this collaboration between BWME and IndiEarth – given their shared vision for providing a platform for independent artists, and connecting non-mainstream musicians with a larger community of international music industry professionals?
Gerald: In the past couple of years, a network has developed of people with similar aims who recognize that working together strengthens the project and increases the chances of success. AWME in Australia, aPaMM in Korea, BWME in Malaysia and IndiEarth XChange in India are all teaming up, meeting several times a year, inviting one another to their events and creating a viable network to support and expose the music of Asia. It is the very nature of working as a network that increases chances for success, so the future is very much about collaboration.


IndiEarth is an online B2B platform that connects India’s non-mainstream independent Musicians and Filmmakers to worldwide Media. The platform features a blog, offers value-added services and wider opportunity networks through its partnerships. IndiEarth is an EarthSync Initiative.

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