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Traditional music with exotic vibes

#Sounds of Korea l 2023-03-02

Sounds of Korea

Traditional music with exotic vibes

It’s already March when year 2023 seems to have started just a few days ago. The world seems to change as rapidly as the time flies. One of the common concerns that traditional artists everywhere struggle with is how to preserve heritage in this fast-changing environment. What should we do to preserve our cultural heritage, how much of our tradition can we change and what part of our heritage can undergo modernization? These are some of the questions that traditional artists ask themselves in their quest to cherish and safeguard their art. Such questions are harder for Korean traditional artists to answer because local cultures were suppressed and despised during the Japanese colonial era, an atmosphere that continued until recently. Only now, more than fifty years after Korea’s liberation, traditional musicians are encouraged to interpret traditional music freely and gaining public attention with their modern renditions of Korean traditional music. One of the fastest ways to modify traditional music is to alter musical instruments. The gayageum was originally a twelve-string instrument, but the number of strings has increased from thirteen around the time of liberation to twenty-three, and the strings are made with a wide range of different materials, such as steel to synthetic fiber. Today’s creative music pieces mostly use 25-string gayageums. The 25-string gayageum piece we’re going to listen now is “The Rough Road” played by Cho Moon-young. 

The Rough Road/ Gayageum by Cho Moon-young, Irish whistle & bodhran by Halim

 “The Rough Road” is a music piece with an exotic vibe. It may be because Irish musical instruments such as the Irish whistle and the Irish drum bodhran were used in addition to the 25-string gayageum. Just adding one or two foreign instruments dramatically changes the entire vibe of the music. Now let’s listen to a piece played with Indian traditional instruments. 

Spring is the peak season for the yellow corvina, a species of croaker, in temperate waters of the West Sea. Koreans living in fishing villages along the west coast were said to lose sleep over the sound that schools of yellow corvina make. We can easily imagine that many Korean fishermen got rich by catching this delectable fish. The song fishermen used to sing when they brought in big hauls of fish to the port was called “Baechigi배치기.” 

Chilsan칠산 in Eoyeongdo어영도 Island off the coast of Jeollabuk-do전라북도 Province was the center of yellow corvina fishing. There the fish was equated with money and all the fishermen had to do was simply pull up the nets to make a lot of money. Today’s “Baechigi” is performed by TAAL딸 with Indian percussion instrument tabla and an accordion-like harmonium often used in India. Let’s listen to “Baechigi” with an exotic Indian atmosphere.

Baechigi/ Sung and performed by TAAL

The most iconic Indian instrument is none other than the sitar. Because the sitar uses metal strings, its sound is clear and resonates for a long time, causing listeners to be mesmerized by its resonance. Although the instrument looks different and makes a different sound, it is similar to the geomungo in that the sitar is played by pressing down on the frets. There are several Korean traditional instruments and performances that originated from India. One is the lion dance in which dancers wear lion masks, as the lion is not an animal indigenous to Korea. There are also the taepyeongso태평소 that was imported into Korea from Central Asia through India and the percussion instrument jegeum제금 resembling the cymbals largely used in Buddhist or shamanistic ritruals. Now let’s listen to “Compass” played with a sitar on top of the gayageum, geomungo, daegeum and janggu. The spring season is perfect for traveling and perhaps a compass is what you need to find your bearing in a long journey we sometimes call life. Here’s experimental band Baramgot바람곶 performing “Compass.”

Compass/ Performed by Baramgot

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