Nothing humdrum about this fest

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Nothing humdrum about this fest

The pounding from the Seoul Drum Festival could be felt long before the players could be seen. Little white lights lit up the street from City Hall to the Sejong Center, blinking to the rhythms played on bongos, shoulders, chairs, pots and pans. The pulsating music transcended language barriers and seeped inside the audience, so that when people reached the stage, the rhythms were more than just a sonic experience, they were physical.

If the goal of the festival is to make people of all ages and backgrounds sway back and forth to the contagious cadences of percussion from all over the world, then it succeeded. More than 6,000 people gathered at the Sejong Center's outdoor theater on the opening night of the third Seoul Music Festival, each of them clapping, cheering and moving in time with the music.

"Harmony and unity" is the theme of the nine-day event, but "diversity and energy" would have been a better description of the atmosphere on opening night last week. Five bands, each with a style and dress all its own, performed for nearly three hours. The local outfit Nanta wore chef hats and furiously banged on frying pans in a samulnori rhythm; a South African troupe, the Phambili Marimba Group, fused jazz and modern melodies with traditional instruments. Add in stage lights, a cool spring night and 33 other definitions of "drumming," and you get a fantastic cultural celebration.

The crowd matched the intensity and color on stage. A young girl from Germany danced in circles with her father; a French woman shook her stuff to a Turkish tune while Korean children played imaginary drums and couples snuggled in the back row. As the music grew louder, people cheered, and when familiar melodies came out of exotic instruments, businessmen, backpackers and children laughed in recognition.

Thirty-five bands will play, dance and act at eight different venues during the festival, which runs through Thursday. The event usually takes place in September, but was moved this year to coordinate with the World Cup games.

"We want to show different interpretations of music," said Cara Han, one of the organizers. Based on opening night, the festival will do even more; its energy and intensity will form a vibrant image of Seoul that visitors will not soon forget.

by Daniela SantaMaria

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