Korean Traditional, Pop, and Jazz Music

Ok, so here is my second post on Korean music. Here I’ll cover some traditional, pop, and jazz music. Admittedly, this post is incomplete since Korea, especially Seoul, is teeming with a vibrant music culture.


2-CD collection of Kim Duk Su's traditional music.

The Grand Poobah of Korean traditional music is Kim Duk Soo, the man who leads his own samul nori ensemble. The core ensemble consists of four instrument, the janggu (the hour-glass-shaped drum), buk (a regular big tub of a drum), jing (a large, dull sounding gong) and the Kwaenggwari (a small cymbal used to solo and lead the group), but in many cases the ensemble is expanded. Some find this music annoying, especially because of the kwaenggwari, but to see it live is simply amazing. These muthfuckas can wail! Not only that, take a look at performance in which they do the twirly-head-thingy, gives metal-loving headbangers a run for their money, eh? Luckily I had the chance to study the janggu under the tutelage of my school’s music teacher, but without the head spinning. If you’re interested, Mr. Kim runs a daily show in Seoul at the Gwangwhamun Arts Hall. I missed it, but I have a couple of his discs, “Pan” and his 2-disc “Samulnori”. I like the second one best but “Pan” would probably give a better overall glimpse at traditional Korean music.

There is another traditional performing arts show that’s not all percussion. It’s also a regular show at the Korea House in Seoul. It is here you can hear the traditional flute played, see the fan-dance, and also see the all-female drum quintet that, I think, inspired Drumcat.


KPop all-stars, 2NE1 from South Korea.

If there is one country that has PERFECTED pop music, it’s Korea. It’s catchy, it cute, it’s fake, it’s in Korean AND English! I’ll admit that I’m sadly out of touch with the current Kpop trends, but I did spend some time studying Kpop since it would often get my students to pay attention… and make ladies laugh at the bar. Recently, Super Junior, 2NE1, Brown Eyed Girls, 2PM and SNSD were tearing up the charts with their catchy singles (I’d post links but they’d just get deleted because of copyright infringement). A friend sent me this link to a couple of wayguks (foreigners) giving heir top 2009 Kpop hit singles. I think it’s a pretty good summation.


Autographed jazz CD by Se Yun's trio. Translation: "Steve! Thank you. Se Yun. 12.12"

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see as much jazz as I would’ve liked while in SoKo. But, from what I can tell, Seoul is the city to catch some live jazz. While in one jazz bar the band, Se Yun’s Trio, was phenomenal live so I picked up the disc (see above). The disc is equally impressive. Busan has one bar that’s dedicated to jazz, but the “jam” on Mondays always seemed empty. I was part of one band that played a lot of jazz in Busan, you can see some vidz HERE. Lastly, there are several jazz festivals that take place. The two I had heard about were the Seoul Jazz Festival and the Jarasum International Jazz Festival.

And that’ll just about do it for my knowledge on South Korean music. Looking back at my posts I’ve realized my knowledge is paltry compared to what’s really out there. To those in SoKo, there’s lots of stuff going on and I’d love to hear about it. To those outside of SoKo, don’t write Asia off for it’s music!


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