Lionel Igersheim: From French expat to King of the Jungle

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We met in an unassuming French restaurant located in, of all places, a school, Alianza Francesa de Miraflores. At first I thought it an odd location because I did not know much about my subject. I felt like a reporter in a dime spy novel and wondered why this strange man had asked to meet me in such an obscure location. As so often happens, I was surprised by the restaurant, the quality of the food and menu- and even more so by my subject.

Lionel Igersheim did not step out of the shadows dressed in a dark suit, with a lit cigarette dangling from his lips. He met me with a bright smile and handshake in the sunlit portico of the school and we entered the restaurant together. I had many questions for this casually dressed young man who displayed a lively vibrant attitude you might expect from someone in his line of business.

If I had met him ten years earlier when he made his first trip to Peru, I wonder: would I have encountered the same person?

lionel
(Photo: Gerard Kelly/Peru this Week)

Lionel had arrived in Peru almost 10 years ago as an exchange student from France. Like many who visit this country he had preconceived ideas about the place and the people. His intention was to study Spanish and develop an understanding of mystic Peru.

“My first days were full of discoveries and learning, starting with the language then culture, history… I was impatient to understand this society that looked different from what I knew before. It was actually my first non-touristic trip and this made a lot of difference to me,” Lionel explained. The pleasant nature of Peruvians and the innately friendly attitude they so often express when encountering foreigners gave Lionel the incentive he needed to decide to make Peru his home.

Our conversation flowed and I was so at ease chatting with Lionel, as he described his early days in the country. “Cultural activities took a great part in my discovery of Peru and among them especially live concerts. For a number of reasons, live concerts in Peru are still part of day-to-day life. You see them in birthday parties, weddings, clubs and bars; not only in concert halls. That’s what made it easy to become acquainted to a variety of bands in the country.” Some eight years ago while working at a bank in Lima, Lionel became involved in the organization of a baroque concert in Lima and Cuzco. This was his first involvement into music promotion and it was a step that would change his life and the landscape of the Peruvian music scene!

This lead to something big for Peru because out of this grew Selvámonos, a non-profit art and music festival held throughout the year at various locations. “Selvámonos was created by a group of friends as a one-off initiative but organizing the first festival almost 7 years ago acted on us as a virus … we never lost the taste of doing it since then.”

Since their explosion into the music and arts scene, Selvámonos has grown and continues to develop. Today it is well organized and made up of two associations: one in Lima, Peru and another in Paris, France. It has six full time employees and an active group of volunteers coming together to host some of Peru’s most anticipated musical events, and likely the most sustainable as well.

It is a struggle to be sustainable in a country where the government support of cultural initiatives are very limited to continue these events of course must be financially sustainable. Funding for the events is limited and it is ticket sales that make or break cultural activities.

lionel
(Photo: Kat Goicochea/Peru this Week)

Selvámonos’ most obvious goal is perhaps that of creating and realizing what is new and interesting on the music scene in Peru and introducing Peruvian contemporary music to a worldwide audience. They accomplish this by sending Peruvian groups abroad, and exposing them on the world stage, as well as by broadening their audience in the country with live concerts. They have sent groups like Dengue Dengue Dengue to Japan, and other Asian countries. Check out this interview in Tokyo.

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