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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Teshome Birhanu, an Ethiopian Migrant who puts Stockholm as a European Cultural Capital

With offices in Stockholm and Addis, and supported by several Swedish organizations as well as the Nordic Culture Fond, SELAM promotes festivals, concerts, tours, club nights and forums presenting global music in professional venues, such as the Stockholm Culture Festival. But, who is behind such big initiative which is bringing thousands of music fans together every summer in Stockholm not to mention other other cultural event?
Teshome, a musician from the start, trained in Russia, but born and raised in Ethiopia and came to Sweden in 1990. Seven years later, he founded SELAM, which is a cultural organization which deals with music, organizing festivals, concerts, club nights and tours throughout Sweden. SELAM focus mostly on music from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and invites international guests to Sweden and organizes events in places like Konsterthuset, Södra teatern, Nalen etc. It also works with international cultural exchanges between Sweden and Africa and supports the Ethiopian cultural work with the skills, contacts, organizing festivals and much more.
Teshome Wondimu started playing with different bands at various locations in the suburbs of Stockholm in the 1990s. But soon he realized why they [ musicians with foreing background] were not allowed to play
at the "chic" places in the inner city. He took the matters into his own hands, took a cultural administrator training and started the initaitive in collabration with the Stockholm city to make the town the Capital of European Culture in 1998. In 1997 he established SELAM, which continues to arrange an African music festival every year at Nalen in Stockholm. SELAM brought internationally renown artists such as the legendary Rai singer Khaled and Cesaria Evora, thanks to a Nordic support. By staging concerts at the ''finest'' places and having a professional marketing and good artists, Wondimu wanted to show the major institutions that the audience and the performers are. Operators like SELAM, Re: Orient and Midsummer
Latino would not have been necessary if public institutions had done their job, said Teshome. 
The Stockholm Culture Festival is a city-wide event presented by the City of Stockholm with partners from the cultural and business life of the city. The festival fills streets and squares with all kinds of cultural events, and has managed to attract 750,000 visits last year. 
Teshome Wondimu, founder and director of SELAM, told iREFUGEE that his organization has been engaged for more than a decade in giving back to tax-payers by staging free of charge music festivals and bringing internationally renown artists from all corners of the world to Sweden.

iREFUGEE would like to thank Teshome for sharing his busy schedule in providing this short interview.  

iREFUGEE: when and why did you engage in this endeavor? 
TESHOME: I launched this initiative in 1997 after finding out that musicians of foreign backgrounds in Sweden were excluded from staging their performances at public places which is almost free for any tax-payer in Sweden. Most of the African musicians were performing to their respective groups and I wanted to organize ourselves and bring our performances to the wider public. SELAM  was founded to create access to immigrants to resources and cultural public places in Sweden. SELAM created an awareness among immigrants about their rights to such cultural activities and resources which are availed by the Swedish government. 
iREFUGEE: How many Ethiopian artists you brought so far to Sweden?
TESHOME: They are too many to count. SELAM was able to bring renown artists such as Aster Aweke, Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete, Getachew Mekuria, EthioColor and many more. 
iREFUGEE: Why did you name your organization SELAM?
TESHOME: First of all, my beloved sister's name is SELAM? Secondly, it means peace and used in many languages (Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, etc) and countries including Ethiopia as a greeting. Thirdly, it is simple and easier to remember. 
iREFUGEE: You are one of the few Ethiopian migrants who become successful in Sweden.What is the reason behind your success?
TESHOME: Discipline and surrounding myself with hard-working people. I was taught discipline at early age as a boy-scout at the Minilik II Secondary school. I served at the former Ethiopian Navy which also shaped me with discipline. I like to work hard and I think it contributed a lot to where I am today. 
iREFUGEE: The concert which SELAM is organizing is free but how about the costs?
TESHOME: Neither SELAM'S nor Stockholm city's intention is making profit; it is rather providing services to the tax-payers. Such concerts are unique because they are free to all age groups and different class backgrounds and create meeting venues to residents of Stockholm. SELAM has also cultural projects in Ethiopia, Uganda, Chile and other places in the world to promote music and cultures of these respective countries.  
Next week, iREFUGEE will present interview with Francis Falceto who put Ethiopian music on the world map. Until then enjoy Teshome's inspiring interview and have a nice weekend. 

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