29 September 2010 — It’s an all-day, all-night dance and listening party, where old hands and grand dames share space with wild newcomers. It’s a business platform where people from remote villages and well-heeled megalopolises meet and discuss how to sustain musical diversity. It’s the best place to launch a successful career, whether you’re a striking traditional singer from Afghanistan or the best rock guitarist in Zanzibar.
It’s WOMEX, the world’s premier world music expo and music event (October 27-31, 2010 in Copenhagen, Denmark). This year, in addition to hearing sounds from across the planet, participants will get a chance to build new approaches to “world music,” a term coined at the end of the eighties in the UK to help market music from outside the Western world, now about creating musical infrastructure to support artists and audiences everywhere.
WOMEX has brought Saharan desert rockers Tinariwen, Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora, Brazilian bohemian Seu Jorge, and countless others to global stardom. This year’s showcase festival highlights everyone from La Réunion’s soulful Creole blues poet Danyèl Waro to the hip electro-cumbia of Colombia’s Bomba Estéreo and the hard-core Bavarian brass of LaBrassBanda. Virtuoso hurdy-gurdy from Austria (Matthias Loibner) may follow 10,000-year-old Chinese jew’s harp tunes (Wang Li) and the resonant funk of the Senegalese hoddu (Malick Pathé Sow & Maoba). Anything goes—as long as it excels.
“The jury always tries to put together a program that is broad in styles and traditions, that reflects electronic and acoustic approaches,” WOMEX Director of Music Programming Alexander Walter notes. “We keep an eye on having bigger and smaller bands. Only by being this open and diverse can cover the radically different interests and tastes of the delegates that come to the event.”
Growing annually since it began in 1994, it now brings together nearly 3,000 delegates including 1,000 concert and festival bookers, and around 60 showcase acts. Just don’t ask for one single definition of “world music.”
“We always shy away from definitions,” explains Anna Pötzsch, Director of Media and Communications. “Instead, we create an event every year that includes an impressive variety of styles from the very traditional to the latest mix of electronica, openly embracing all kinds of musical developments.”
Many of these developments involve development, and aim to change the way global musicians access and benefit from the world’s music markets. WOMEX provides a unique site for discussion, networking, sharing, and planning. A conference as well as a musical must-see, WOMEX creates a moment for dialogue between very different professionals from very different cultures and locations.
“Along with twenty conference sessions on four major topics, we have sub-publishing matchmaking, country speed dating, private mentoring with seven industry experts, all for free,” notes Pötzsch.
This year, for example, delegates can address how to build the musical infrastructure in underserved countries, how to engage in new networks aiming to promote music internationally, as well as to enhance the development of local music professionals in all branches of the “industry”.
“More and more, the emphasis is on how to boost the professional community and structures in countries that have so far primarily been the providers of interesting artists. To really help build the industry,” Pötzsch recounts. “And that’s just one session.”