Boohwal: older, but still rocking

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Boohwal: older, but still rocking


It’s hard to say what the group Boowhal is most famous for: being the standard-bearer of Korean rock music for 20 years or for changing its lead vocalist so many times that even hard-core fans don’t know who’s singing.
“There have been nine [vocalists] so far, to be exact,” said Kim Tae-won, the 40-year-old leader and guitarist of the band. “Sorry if this offends the other [vocalists], but our new singer this time is going to be truly awesome.”
Kim laughed and ran his fingers through his long, straight hair (the mark of a true rocker) while the group’s new vocalist, sitting next to him, blushed and shifted around in his seat modestly, although it was obvious that he enjoyed getting attention from a famous guitarist.
The frequent changes in vocalists for the five-member group hasn’t scared away singers ― quite the opposite. Each has gone on to make solo albums and became a star in his own right. It’s one more thing Boohwal is famous for: jump-starting singing careers.
Lee Seung-chul, the group’s second vocalist, is now a famous ballad singer and is also celebrating the 20th anniversary of his debut as a professional rocker. Kim Jong-seo and Park Wan-gyu ― now two of the biggest names in the Korean rock world ― are also former vocalists for Boohwal (the name means “resurrection” in Korean).
“We don’t kick anyone out, nor do we hold on to them when they wish to leave us to go solo,” Kim said slowly. “So [when they decide to leave us], we end up searching for another jewel to express our next set of songs.”
Though he sounded nonchalant about his frequent searches for a new vocalist, the group itself has had some painful moments. One of their former vocalists and Kim’s best friend, Kim Jae-gi, was killed in a traffic accident during the making of the group’s fourth album.

The parting of ways with an earlier vocalist, Lee Seung-chul, was also the talk of the the rock industry after Lee suddenly declared in the late 1980s that he would go solo. Juicy rumors flew about as to why Lee left the group, and many thought that the loss of his powerful presence signaled the end of the already legendary Boohwal.
Asked why Lee never got along with the group, Kim snapped, “We were just very different, we had different values.”
The new “jewel” featured on their 10th album is Jung Dong-ha, 25, who used to sing at clubs in Hongdae, either solo or as a guest vocalist for a band.
“A friend told me he knew a boy who was mad about singing, so I said, shoot, bring him over,” Kim said.
He said that after listening to about 100 amateur singers audition for the group, they were sick of hearing their songs warbled and mangled. But after hearing Jung sing a single verse, they agreed: he was the one.
“Not only is his voice very good,” Kim said, “But his looks are attracting girl fans like in the good old days when we were new.” The group chuckled. “He is reminding us of the days when we were idols,” he added, laughing. “Hey, we even defeated the most popular dance group, Sobangcha, in a music program a decade ago.”
Kim was perhaps being modest. For Korean pop fans, the group is more than an old rock band. Along with Sinawi, Baekdusan and Oeinbudae, the group was one of the first to introduce heavy-metal “mayhem” to Korean listeners in the early 1980s, when rock had a negative image.
In those days, rock bands hung out at a theater called Pagoda in Jongno, central Seoul. Mobs of girls screamed at groups of high school boys, who grabbed at their guitars with less-than-subtle sexual overtones.
Kim’s band quickly became an audience favorite after their first show at the club in 1985 under the name Boohwal (other names were tried out, but none stuck).
The tastes of hard-core rock fans have hardened since then, and some now question whether Boohwal was really a rock group. Its music was never the head-banging type and most contemporary rock bands are several decibles louder, but the band’s first songs, “Huiya” (To Hui) and “The Rain and Your Story,” are considered classics of Korean rock.
“We wanted to be like the Korean rocker Kim Su-cheol, while others worshipped bands like Deep Purple,” Kim said. “That might have affected the kind of songs we wrote.”

by Lee Min-a

The group is holding its 20th anniversary concert this Sunday in the Weight Lifting stadium at the Olympic Park in Jamsil. At the concert, younger pop singers, including SG Wannabe, Epikhigh and Rumble Fish will be featured as guest artists. Boohwal’s mentor rocker, Kim Su-cheol, has also agreed to appear and perform on stage, the group said.
For information about tickets call: (02) 1544-1555.
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