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Korea Week in Chennai: traditional music and instruments in focus

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Traditional Korean music and instruments have been at the forefront atof this year’s Korea Week celebrations in the city. On Friday, a two-women folk ensemble takes stage

Traditional Korean music and instruments have been at the forefront of this year’s Korea Week celebrations in the city. On Friday, a two-women folk ensemble takes stage

Ongo jishin. This Korean proverb of yore translates to “understanding the new by learning things of old”. Traditional instruments are simply a gateway to the future, believes ID, a Korean band whose sound is a delightful dance of traditional wind instruments like piri, taepyeongso and saenghwang. As Sir Mutha Venkata Subbarao Concert Hall fills with a timbre that is reminiscent of a time unknown to us all, it is colorfully dotted with guitar riffs and keyboard interludes that are familiar. This is what ID thrives on: creating contemporary sounds through traditional means.   

The band recently performed in Chennai as part of the city’s Korea Week celebrations, organised by the Korean Cultural Centre, New Delhi, and InKo Centre in association with the Consulate. Later this week, a two-women folk music act, titled DUO BUD will perform in the city, ahead of the closing day celebrations. 

Korean band ID
| Photo Credit: seungyullnah

ID derives its music from Korean folk songs and legends: it is something that has made its music stand out, since the band’s formation in 2015. “‘Jeongsun arari’, a folk song, describing the landscape of Mt. Geumgangsan in the Korean peninsula became the motif of our song, ‘Yeoumbul Arari’,” says frontman Nam Kimun.  

Their song ‘Nanani’ was inspired by ‘Nanani taryoung’, a traditional work song sung by women while harvesting oysters in the seashore of Incheon. “We intended to describe the city at night with neon lights in this song,” he continues. Though piri (small reed instrument made of bamboo) was the instrument that the founding members of the band specialised in, taepyeongso (double reed instrument of the oboe family), saenghwang (free reed mouth organ), guitar, drums, keyboard and janggu (an hourglass-shaped drum) complete the ensemble. The band’s next aim is to collaborate with Indian folk musicians. “

While ID’s soundscape flits between traditional and contemporary, DUO BUD relies on folk sounds — its the result of a healthy battle between janggu and gayageum (a plucked zither with a minimum of 12 strings). Also formed in 2015,  when DUOBUD started out, it was rare to find a female duo. Percussive sounds were only considered as background music, and not as solo. “Deviating from the existing style of wild and intense percussion elements, we focussed more on the delicate and lyrical tone in Korean sensibility by utilising the characteristics of gayageum,” says Jinhe Lyim who plays the gaeryang gayageum (that has 25 strings, a modernised version) in the ensemble. 

DUO BUD

DUO BUD
| Photo Credit: SONG KWANG CHAN

Janggu is a drum played with a stick, and it is the only percussion instrument that can be tuned to produce pitches, says Sora Kim. “For the better accompaniment with each musical piece’s timbre, mood, and pace, we have selectively used Pungmul (farmers’ music) janggu and Musok (shamanistic music) janggu. The repertoire of the band is largely inspired by Nature. “Nature is always nearby and delivers comfort but can be unconsciously oblivious like the moon in the night sky and the tree in front of the house and by reinterpreting Korean traditional music, we want our songs to be there for the people who need comfort from everyday life,” adds Jinhe.

ID admits to being in a constant struggle to find the balance between preserving traditional music and adapting it to contemporary times. “Traditional music has its own virtue. We simply wish to look at it from more diverse angles and share the results with more people,” says Nam. With K-culture increasingly becoming strong throughout the world, Jinhe believes that K-traditional music, dance and craft are also being accepted in the global market. 

Back in Chennai, she says the audience is welcome to explore this correlation. “For audiences experiencing Korean traditional music for the first time or K-pop fans, making a comparison and contrast of Indian and Korean music or K-Pop and DUO BUD music can be fun,” says Sora. 

DUO BUD will perform at Music Academy, TTK Road on October 21 at 7pm. Entry is free.  



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