Traditional Quartet With a Modern Beat

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Traditional Quartet With a Modern Beat

Kim Duk-soo, creator of samulnori - a traditional percussive performing quartet - has long been credited with reviving public interest in Korean folk music.

Considered one of Korea's cultural icons, Mr. Kim and his band, Nanjang, will perform with a group of contemporary musicians including the jazz vocalist Woongsan on Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation's "Kim Duk-soo Special" program on Wednesday at 12:30 a.m.

Mr. Kim was born in 1952. By the age of five, he was touring with his father in a namsadang, a large group of wandering traditional musical entertainers. In the mid-1970s, Mr. Kim, Lee Gwang-soo, Choi Jong-shil and Kim Yong-bae revolutionized traditional music in Korea by taking the instruments and rhythms used in the centuries-old namsadang music and putting them in the hands of just four players on a stage. They forced the public to reassess the "farmers' music" in a more formal artistic arena.

The traditional instruments used in samulnori (literally, "four instruments playing") are called the changgo (hourglass-shaped drum), the buk (the barrel drum), the ching (large gong) and the kwaenggwari (small gong). Kwaenggwari players sometimes also twirl long white streamers attached to their hats in a dance called mogdolligi.

Mr. Kim has continued to breathe new life into old folk music forms. "His music can be put into the category of 'fusion music' in the sense that he has worked with musicians of many different genres, ranging from jazz to orchestral music," said Lee Yoo-ho, the director of MBC's program.

In 1989, samulnori met jazz when Mr. Kim released his first album with Red Sun, a group of American and European jazz musicians. He worked again with Red Sun on albums "Then Comes the White Tiger" (1993) and "A New Horizon" (1995). In 1997, Mr. Kim demolished a few more cultural boundaries when he released the album "Mr. Changgo" with a number of popular contemporary musicians including Shin Hye-chul, the leader of N.E.X.T., a Korean heavy metal band.

Mr. Kim's fans range from students to grandparents. "He has revitalized traditional music, which used to be seen as boring and repetitive," said Park Hyo-soon, a middle-aged woman. "Kim Duk-soo's samulnori is passionate, versatile and retains the old music's spirituality."

And Mr. Kim's collaborations with musicians from around the world have resulted in increasing international interest in samulnori. "Thanks to his great efforts, samulnori has become a genre of international appeal, transcending cultural divisions," said Kwon Hyuk-rae, a member of a private samulnori club.

According to the Samsung Foundation of Culture, the rising numbers of samulnori fans around the world have prompted the formation of a samulnori network, which is called the "Samulnorian."


by Kim Jae-seon

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