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Fusion Music

Posted June. 14, 2006 03:45,   


The KBS special titled “All the Ramen Boxes of the World” that aired on June 3 portrayed five old women making a living by selling ramen boxes they picked from the back alleys of downtown. What was unique in this documentary was that their life stories were narrated in “minyo” (traditional Korean folk songs). A young minyo singer appeared out of nowhere and sang following a cart pulled by them, in the room they sleep lonely, and behind the machine recycling ramen boxes.

Kim Yong-wu is the very singer in the documentary. Kim runs around the stage with excitement, shouting “One more?” after his three-hour performance. A concert to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his debut, “10 Years,” will be held at the Ye-ak-dang of the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, Seocho-dong, Seoul, at 7:30 p.m. on June 30.

Became a Singer While Collecting Minyo –

It was in 1987 that he found the simple and plain taste of nongyo (agricultural songs) like “Nonmaegi Song” while participating in service activities for a farm village in Yesan, South Chungcheong Province. Since then, he wandered around the country to collect minyo with only a cassette recorder for eight years.

“The hardest trial in collecting minyo was eating. The country people I met served a heap of steamed rice and said they would not teach me their songs unless I finished it. I had the happiest moments of my life as I drank alcohol, sang, and danced into late night with them,” he said.

Playing as a member of “Seulgidung,” a Gugak chamber music group, he debuted as a minyo singer with his first album titled “Jigesori” in 1996.

“Mr. Goh Seong-gyu taught me the title song, ‘Jigesori,’ on my debut album. I sang according to my interpretation of the semi-tone expressions of the song. And he scolded me later that I spoiled the song. It made me sober up.”

Then, he established a rule that he would not transform the words and melody of minyo, but instill novelty by changing the accompaniment or singing style.

Minyo Singer with 3,700 Fan Club Members –

Kim was wearing a transparent Thai-style costume when he came out for this interview. He has many fans enthusiastic about his new attempts of singing minyo in jazz, a cappella, or in New Age music styles, and about his pursuit of freedom in costumes and hairstyle.

About 3,700 members ranging from their teens to eighties are registered in his fan club café opened at “Daum,” an Internet portal site. Some fans even bring foods like kimchi, Korean soy bean sauce, and rice in their concern for him.

“Fan clubs are rare in the world of Gugak, where the relationship of masters and pupils is more common. I am lucky in that sense.”

In the concert, he will sing new songs such as “Neo-yeong Na-yeong,” a Jeju minyo beginning with piano, and “Shin-a-oe-gi-so-ri” with reggae rhythms added, in addition to his hit songs such as “Jigesori” from his first album, and “Eo-i Eor-eo-ja-ri” from his fifth album published last year.

He added, “Those of us who pursue fusion-style music should not make the kind of music that no clear nationality is recognizable. World music is not singing in English or following Western scale harmony. We need to be firmly rooted in our own music.”

The ticket price is 20,000-40,000 won. For more information, call 1544-7890.

Seung-Hoon Cheon raphy@donga.com