[ENTERTAINMENT] Singer Struck Gold With Voice, Not Hype

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[ENTERTAINMENT] Singer Struck Gold With Voice, Not Hype

The Korean pop favorites Jo Sung-mo and the boys band H.O.T. have in past months garnered headlines for selling over a million copies of their respective albums. But such sales barriers were demolished years ago. By 1995, Jo Kwan-woo had sold three million copies of a single album. The ballad singer is to guest star in a concert by the group Secret Garden in Seoul this Sunday.

Readers will likely assume that the 36-year-old must be good-looking, love media appearances and have at least one extra talent with which to win over the public, to have struck gold in Korea where frequent, even excessive media appearances are an essential factor for success.

However, Jo Kwan-woo differs from other popular singers in Korea. Up until recently at least, he has shied away from television programs in favor of concentrating on his art - making his stunning success seem all the stranger. But listen to his albums and you'll understand why.

Mr. Jo, armed with a melodious sound and touching lyrics, mainly sings ballads based in rhythm and blues. His sweet voice and wide range - he can sing as well in a "feminine" high register as in a low one - are particularly loved. He says he followed his own personal training program to find his voice. The great compass of his range has seen him compared to Russell Thompkins, Jr. of the U.S. band The Stylistics - whose song "Because I Love You, Girl," Mr. Jo says is one of his favorites.

He made his debut in 1994 with the album "My First Story." Selling a million copies, a striking achievement in the Korean music industry at that time, Mr. Jo was acclaimed as an eye-catching musician with great musical talent. In 1995 he released his second album, "Memory," the album which found three million homes. Particularly loved were his covers of catchy songs, such as "In the Flower Bed" ("Kkotbateseo"), originally sung by Jeong Hun-hee.

Mr. Jo has seen hard times as well. The main track on his first album, called "Neup," led his detractors to christen him "the singer stuck in a swamp." Undaunted, he continued to sing, releasing his sixth album "Yeon" ("Karma") in January. He has begun to pursue commercial success more actively with more frequent media appearances. In April, he is also scheduled to hold a solo concert.

He performs this Sunday at a concert headlined by Secret Garden, comprising Rolf Lovland, a Norwegian musician and composer, and Fionnuala Sherry, an Irish violinist. Secret Garden has found considerable success in Korea and worldwide with sorrowful melodies and "oriental" sounds, and will also perform on Saturday in Pusan. In Sunday's concert, to be held at the Seoul Arts Center (Yesuleui Jeondang), Mr. Jo will sing three songs, including his own "Because I Loved" ("Sarang Haesseumeuro") from his sixth album, his version of "In the Flower Bed" and a Secret Garden song titled "Song From a Secret Garden."

For concert information, call 02-599-5743 (English service available).

by Chun Su-jin

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