A ‘reborn’ Dr. Reggae is back after a decadeDr. Reggae created a sensation when it first introduced reggae music to Korea in the mid-1990s. Shortly after its debut, however, the seven-man band “disappeared,” and nothing was heard of the group for a decade.
Now, the team is back with its new album “The Second Coming.”
Dr. Reggae was formed in 1992 by three childhood friends: Kim Jang-youn, Yang In and Choi Eun-chang. Four more members joined and the group released the single “It’s Really Hard” in late 1993, and its first major album in 1994.
“Yang In and I met in elementary school and played together in our middle school band,” Kim said. “When we first saw how people raved over foreign rock stars on stage, we thought how great it would be if the situation were reversed and Koreans could be enthusiastic about Korean musicians on stage.”
The group broke up in 1995, however, when some of its members, including Kim, the leader, were caught smoking marijuana amid a major police crackdown on drug use by performers and other public figures.
At the time, many famous musicians, including Dr. Reggae, were banned from appearing on public television and Kim went to jail in 2000, spending a year behind bars. The group split up and the members went their separate ways.
Kim had an epiphany while he was in prison and after his release he went to Jeju Island, where he became an active member of the Christian church. One day he received a “message” during his prayers.
“There were no plans, but suddenly things were working out and we were getting back together and talking about reggae,” Kim said.
This led to the second “launch” of Dr. Reggae. The new team is composed of five people: original members Kim on vocals and Luin (Yang In) on percussion; with three new members ― “melodist” E-gu, drummer Sunny and keyboardist Kim Myung-hwan. Guitarist Choi Eun-chang participated in the album but recently dropped out of the band due to health problems.
All of the members are devout Christians, which is why religion is a significant part of Dr. Reggae’s music.
“Music is singing the song of your life. This is our life and trying to restrict it would be unnatural,” Kim said. “Although we are Christian, we aren't necessarily reaching out to Christians. We want to use reggae music as a tool to reach out to people of other religions too.”
Aside from Kim, most of the members are shy and soft-spoken. While Kim speaks, Luin remains smiling and silent in the background, nodding to acknowledge his friend’s comments.
E-gu is the melodist, who sings in a rap-like style. He is also very religious.
“I pray before I write the lyrics, so they are mostly about praising God. The songs are like very short episodes of my spiritual experiences,” he said.
When asked whether the members, who are in their late 30s (except for Sunny, who is 25), felt too old to dance and sing reggae, they vehemently disagreed. “Think of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones or Bono in U2. Age has nothing to do with energy,” they said.
Dr. Reggae is already working on its third album, with plans to release it next year, and also intends to do a Japanese-language album.
The group is also working more on incorporating Korean traditional music elements and instruments into their sound. For instance, the group once performed a reggae version of the Jeongseon Arirang.
“In the case of the Korean sanjo, the flow of the rhythm is very similar to that of reggae, which is why we can sing a ‘reggae-style’ sanjo,” Kim said. The sanjo is a style of Korean traditional music involving an instrumental solo with a drum accompaniment.
Dr. Reggae members pointed out that although the name of the group and some of the members are the same, the group is “reborn.”
“The purpose of the group has completely changed. Before, we tried to achieve something through music, but now we’re not trying to accomplish anything. All we want to do is present hope. Music has the power to move one’s soul,” Kim said.
The members said that their “reggae look” with Jamaican dreadlocks and colorful baggy clothing is a way of “communicating” reggae to their target audiences ― mainly people in their early 20s.
“It may sound funny, but we actually prayed a lot about whether we should change our hairstyles and wear clothes like this, but in the end, we decided that form wasn’t important and that if we wanted young people to become interested in reggae music, we weren’t going to attract them by wearing suits and ties,” Kim said. “Also, the manner of your dress affects the way you move and these clothes are very comfortable when you’re dancing.”
He added, “There was a time when I thought there was no tomorrow. But I want people to know that there is a tomorrow. I would like to relay that message to others through music.”
by Wohn Dong-hee