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Modern arrangements of traditional songs

#Sounds of Korea l 2023-06-29

Sounds of Korea

Modern arrangements of traditional songs

Together with “Yukjabaegi육자배기,” “Heungtaryeong흥타령” is one of the most iconic folksong of the Jeolla-do region. It is a sad song as its lyrics describe life’s emptiness and longing for loved ones. A passage from the song goes something like the following:

It is a dream; it is a dream. Everything is a dream. 

You and I are in a dream. All are in a dream.

We are in a dream even after we wake up from a dream, and a waken dream is also a dream.

We are born of a dream and live in a dream and die in a dream. Life is pointless.

If we try to wake up from a dream, what is the use of dreaming?

It feels a little hollow to think that everything in life is a dream. But when life is tough and one is ill, it brings a bit of comfort to think that all the difficulties can be tolerated because it is all a dream. Today’s “Heungtaryeong” was arranged into moombahton, a genre of electronic music derived from house music and reggaetone. Here’s Kim Jun-su singing “It Is a Dream – Heungtaryeong.”

It Is a Dream – Heungtaryeong/ Sung by Kim Jun-su

This song is contained in a life music series produced by the National Gugak Center. This series aims to make gugak or Korean traditional music more accessible to modern people just like pop songs. A grand series of traditional music released in 1994 was probably the National Gugak Center’s first attempt to bring gugak closer to the lives of common people. Ten compact discs in the series each had a title, such as “Music for Remembrance and Prayers,” “Mixing Style and Fun,” “Enjoy Work Like Play,” giving people a wide selection of songs to choose from to suit their every mood and occasion. 

Back in the 1990s, it was important to preserve traditional music as it is, because the fear of losing Korea’s musical heritage was overwhelming. But over the next three decades, Korean people as well as traditional musicians came to realize that even traditional music needed to satisfy people’s latest preference while keeping traditional musical culture alive in its original form. This is why such an accessible music series became available to the public. Coming up next is “It Is Spring” inspired by Gyeonggi folksong “Yusanga유산가.” 

It Is Spring

The last song for this week’s episode is “Dance” written by DJ Frank. He sampled the sounds of various musical instruments to write this piece. DJ Frank won Korean people’s attention when he released a piece inspired by 2018 Korean film “Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits” under the same title. Manshin refers to a shaman priestess, someone who serves ten thousand gods. The movie is about the life of Hwanghae-do Manshin Kim Geum-hwa김금화, who became a shaman at age 17 and then succeeded the tradition of Hwanghae-do Province’s shamanistic rituals in South Korea. She was also an esteemed musical artist who was designated as the practitioner of the intangible cultural asset of west coast Baeyeonshin배연신 and Daedong대동 shamanistic rites. Kim Geum-hwa’s voice was featured also in DJ Frank’s “Manshin.” Perhaps because of this piece, “Dance” also features the sounds of a shaman priestess’s bells as well as those of traditional musical instruments such as janggu, daegeum and haegeum. DJ Frank claims to have attempted to describe the choreography of traditional clowns in his piece “Dance,” but this music also seems to suit the dance moves of today’s clowns. Let’s wrap up this episode while listening to DJ Frank’s “Dance.”

Dance/ DJ Frank

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