by Robert del Valle

Sean Blackman has garnered enough praise, kudos, and fan loyalty by now to be assured a solid and respected place in the annals of Detroit music. And we are safely predicting here that there will be a trophy or plaque someday that will reference a particular niche that he’ll occupy for years to come.

A Singularly Talented Musician in a Genre Category That Everyone Seems to “Know” and Hardly Anyone Can Properly Define or Put Into Words.

We’re talking about World Music here, folks.  The ever reliable scribes of the internet describe it thusly: “local music from out there”.

That’s such a cool definition, isn’t it? It’s hip. It’s worthy of Salon, Slate and (maybe) Starbucks. But it falls a wee bit short of the mark.

We’re going to turn, therefore, to Mr. Blackman, who has been singled out this year for several World Music prizes in this year’s  Detroit Music Awards. Note: A full-length bio introduction would have entailed the sacrifice of one of his answers. We liked his answers (and so will you, we trust), so watch this space at some future date for more vitae about his curriculum.

Blackman portraits by Jeremy Deputat


World Music has such a nice self-explanatory charm to it, but what is it really and what is its chief attraction for a musician such as yourself?

It’s pretty basic and yes, self-explanatory – it’s all music! I feel that there’s a slight misconception in thinking that it’s only from other countries, but it’s not. It includes the music of the U.S. as well. The world’s a small place and there’s certainly enough time to explore it before one leaves it. I’m insatiable for what I haven’t heard yet, so traveling and exploring are things I do often. The gems I find are extraordinary! How exciting to find the equivalent to Sly & the Family Stone in Brazil or the Billie Holiday of the Middle East or the Iron Maiden of Argentina.

What moment or episode in your life prompted this commitment to not only your own creative efforts, but also the musical arts of so many other cultures?

There was no specific episode, but for starters I grew up in a worldly environment. My mother filled our house with art, literature, music, and cuisine from around the world. Even her circle of friends were multi-cultural. Then there’s the thanks I owe to Detroit icons who made the world’s music accessible to me; radio world music DJ Judy Adams, Concert of Colors World Music Festival founder Ismael Ahmed and concert and festival curator Njia Kai. These four people have, in my humble opinion, incredible taste in art and culture and they play a fundamental role in my love for global music. They paved the way for me, the other Detroit Music nominees, and so many others.

For several years now, you have been the pivotal force behind In Transit – a series of concerts at Detroit’s Garden Theatre and other venues. What is In Transit? And also how does an independent musician stay focused – and stay sane! – when dealing with the singular task of orchestrating talented people from all over the globe?

In Transit is an ongoing platform for me to create world-mix music. When I put ensembles together they tend to have performers from many cultures working as a collective. Whether it’s in the studio or on a stage there’s always this cross-culture approach to everything I produce.  As a composer/producer I stay sane (and I love that part of the question!) is by simply orchestrating these groups and events. You see, I’ll hear it first in my head and then if I don’t create it (or get it out) I might go completely crazy. Plus, there’s such a great result from experiencing different cultures in one collaborative effort. Friendships are made – and that, to me at least, is the foundation for everything new and becoming new in the future.

Few words have been appropriated with so much enthusiasm as “diversity” these days. To experience and appreciate music from all over the world is easier today than it was in the past – but is something missing? And if so, is that the gap you are striving to eliminate for audiences?

There’s definitely voids that exist and one  that does exist is that music created outside of the USA is not part of many mainstream circuits. I feel as though the majority is happy with what they’re being spoonfed. It’s not, I hasten to add,  some conspiracy that whoever has the most marketing dollars dictates what we’re buying. I am driven to share everything amazing that I discover with the communities around me. It’s no different from experiencing a great meal and calling your friends to tell them about it.

What excites you the most now about the Detroit music scene?

I’m excited and gratified to see that there is a plethora of virtuosic talent from all over the planet right here in our own backyard. Wow! It’s truly remarkable that, for the most part, if I need to find someone to play an instrument from another part of the globe I can find that person right here! Musicians, singers, dancers, artists – you name it, we got it! I love Detroit for its network of greatness. I don’t know if it’s the salt mines below us, the water around us, or the grey skies above us, but this city not only attracts, but produces the most fabulously talented individuals. I feel fortunate to have been born and raised here. Detroit will always be my pivot point to the rest of the world and with everything I do in this life.