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Unfamiliar Arirang songs

#Sounds of Korea l 2023-02-23

Sounds of Korea

Unfamiliar Arirang songs

K-pop seems to have become the biggest icon of Korean culture these days, although there are other notable cultural representatives like bulgogi, kimchi, taegeukgi, the national anthem and hanbok. When someone talks about Korea’s most well-known folk song, the first one that comes to mind is naturally Arirang. It has a simple melody and easy-to-pronounce lyrics. Since the same passage is repeated, even foreigners can sing along after listening to it once. 

Each region in Korea has its own version of Arirang and new renditions are being written even today. The resilient Arirang was inscribed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012. Today we’ll listen to Arirang songs that we’re not very familiar with. The first one is Gyeonggi-do folksong “Kin Arirang긴아리랑,” which means “Long Arirang.” Ha Ji-ah sings the song to the piri accompaniment of Kim Se-kyung. 

Greetings to the boat that floats on the boundless sea, 

Stop and lower the anchor so I can ask you for a favor.

Arirang, arirang, arariyo. Help me go over Arirang hill. 

Long Arirang/ Sung by Ha Ji-ah, piri by Kim Se-kyung

Many Korean folksongs have the words “kin긴” and “jajin자진” in them. Those two words go in pairs but in an ironic way since “kin” means long and “jajin” means fast. A folksong is called long when it is sung in a very slow way, not because its narratives are long. This is why it pairs with “jajin” in a complementary manner.  

Coming up next is a folksong from the western region titled “Jajinari자진아리.” There were two parts to this Pyongan-do평안도 folksong – “Kinari긴아리” and “Jajinari.” Similar to the Gyeonggi folksong “Kin Arirang” you heard in the first section, long sighs and grief fill “Kinari” and then the beat grows fast and melodies cheerful in “Jajinari.” Here’s Chu Da-hye singing “Jajinari.”

Jajinari/ Sung by Chu Da-hye

Last Sunday was “wusu우수,” a traditional seasonal term when ice supposedly melts. It is followed by “gyeongchip경칩” when frogs are said to come out of their winter hibernation. By gyeongchip, frozen rivers are thawed to allow people and goods to be transported along the waterways. It was also around this time when many parting songs were written. One such song originated in Inje, Gangwon-do Province. It’s titled “Raft Arirang,” which may not be that well-know among ordinary people. Inje is a town located in the upstream area of the Han River. The town is known for high, rugged mountains and quality lumber. When Crown Prince Heungseon흥선ordered the rehabilitation of Gyeongbokgung경복궁 Palace at the end of the Joseon Dynasty, he had lumber from Gangwon-do brought to Hanyang한양 for the reconstruction project. Transporting lumber on land was too difficult because the roads were long and rough. It was much easier to load lumber on a raft and sail on the Han River even though the waterway was fraught with dangerous curving segments. Sailors stood to make a lot of money once they reached Hanyang safely with their load. The song they sang while traveling on the lonely river was “Raft Arirang.”

When the river thaws on wusu or gyeongchip, 

A raft from Hapgangjeong합강정 gazebo drifts down the river. 

Arirang sounds melancholy as a raft floats on the blue waves.

Singers from the Inje Raft Arirang Preservation Society sings “Raft Arirang.”

Inje Raft Arirang/ Inje Raft Arirang Preservation Society

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