4 pied pipers hypnotize, enthrallIn Seoul’s cavernous Dongdaemun Stadium, the combatants appear ill-matched; on one side is a group spewing heavenly purity, on the other is the overpowering din of the city’s subway. But there is no doubt who the victors are, for they are the ones with the prisoners, commuters who have been seized by the unfamiliar sounds of the chaschas, the quena, charango and bombo. The passers-by are drawn not only to the music these instruments produce, but also to the musicians, the Nucanchi Nan, four Andean Indians from Ecuador dressed in their colorful traditional attire.
“The Nucanchi Nan’s music seems to be different from anything I’ve heard, but its tune and beat resemble Korea’s Arirang if you listen carefully,” says Won Young-man, one of the hundreds of captives.
Mr. Won, 49, says he is a devoted fan of the Ecuadorian band and attends their performances whenever he has a chance.
“Ever since I started chasing Nucanchi Nan’s performances, I have stopped going to Korean singing rooms,” Mr. Won says, joining others who are bobbing their head and clapping to the music.
Kim Jeong-hee, 38, is busy filming the Ecuadorian performance. “I have only a few minutes before I go back to work,” she says. Ms. Kim first heard Andean music last summer, when she stumbled across another group of artist from the Andes, performing at the city’s subway stations.
“Every time I hear their music, there’s a pang in my heart and I feel as though I will cry any moment,” Ms. Kim says.
Mr. Won says he first heard the music during a three-year business trip to the Andes region.
“The music is buoyant, yet it has a natural purity and that’s why I seek the Nucanchi Nan,” Mr. Won says.
“It’s the purity and its folkish taste that lure Koreans, I think.”
Mr. Won says three other Andean bands perform in Seoul, but Nucanchi Nan has the largest following.
“Some of the other bands use electric guitars and other state-of-the-art instruments, but Nucanchi Nan uses the traditional instruments, which makes a lot of difference,” Mr. Won says.
The Nucanchi Nan has four members: Jose Miguel Cabascango Tuquerres, 41; Luis Gustavo Vasquez Cabascango, 24; Luis Ramiro Vasquez Cabascango, 21, and Milton Xavier Pinsag Cabascango, 20. They are brothers, an uncle and cousins from Otavalo Imbabura, Ecuador.
The first Nucanchi Nan was formed in 1984 by Miguel and his cousins during the Inti Raymi festival. Nucanchi Nan, meaning “our ways,” was formed to preserve Otavalo traditions and music. Since then the band has performed across South America and Cuba and in Canada, Scotland, Germany, Spain and Italy. Over the two decades since picking up their guitars and drums, Nucanchi Nan has recorded nine albums.
The band focuses on traditional folk songs with strong Sanjuanito, a distinctive Otavalo Indian music beat. Family members write some of the music.
The Nucanchi Nan’s current involvement with Korea began 15 years ago with Jho Young-dae, 43, a copywriter who heard the Andes music for the first time, passing a small record store in Seoul.
Mr. Jho had a promising career as a copywriter at Hancomm, an advertising agency tied to the conglomerate, Hanwha, but he turned his back on several awards and gave it up all for his love of Andean music.
“The first time I heard it I couldn’t move an inch; I was drawn in. It was inexplicable,” he says.
“I asked the store owner if I could buy the record but I was told it wasn’t for sale,” Mr. Jho says.
Mr. Jho says many Koreans find music by the Andean Indians beautiful because of its purity.
“Some time in the past, our country had the same naive and pure sense, but somewhere along modernization we lost it,” Mr. Jho says.
The second time Mr. Jho encountered the music was at the Daejeon Expo in 1993. “A band from Ecuador was performing, and since then I have become completely immersed in the culture,” he says.
In 1999, Mr. Jho made his first trip to the Andes. He traveled to Peru and Bolivia.
“I really felt as though I could live my life just listening to their music,” Mr. Jho says.
He returned to the Andes in October 2003, visiting Ecuador, where he met the Nucanchi Nan. “We had a few drinks and started to talk about how I wanted to hear their music and how they wanted to perform,” Mr. Jho says.
He says the younger generations in Ecuador are losing interest in their own traditional folk songs and the Nucanchi Nan were looking for places to perform.
Mr. Jho suggested they play in Seoul, and the Nucanchi Nan agreed. He was a copywriter no more, quitting his job to become Nucanchi Nan’s manager in Seoul.
“I have never regretted that decision, not even a moment,” Mr. Jho says.
Mr. Jho says that at first his wife did not enjoy his taste in music. “Every time I got in the car I would turn on the tape and after a moment she would ask if we could listen to something else.” But today Mr. Jho’s wife is a fan, although not as enthusiastic as her husband.
Mr. Jho says the Nucanchi Nan spends almost nine months overseas a year performing, and three months at home.
The Nucanchi Nan will give their final Seoul performance of the year this week, after which they will go back to Ecuador for Christmas. Mr. Jho hints they might return to Korea in three months, “If they are good,” he says jokingly.
by Lee Ho-jeong