‘French’ jazz singer finds attention at home, at last

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‘French’ jazz singer finds attention at home, at last


“Gnashing her teeth with chagrin.” That’s how local media once described acclaimed jazz singer Nah Youn-sun’s efforts to succeed in Korea. Despite her musical acclaim in France and elsewhere, her home country regards her as “just another talented Korean overseas,” according to a recent TV documentary.
“I really don’t mind,” Nah said shrugging when asked whether she was ever sad or angry that Koreans paid little attention to her until she performed at a New Year’s ceremony for President Roh Moo-hyun at the Blue House.
“But I was sad when I realized that a French organization was more interested in my first Asia-Australia tour. However, my albums are categorized as ‘French albums’ in many record shops, so it may be natural that I am spotlighted [like a foreigner].”
Nah studied French literature in college in Seoul. But “without much planning ahead,” she moved to France to study jazz singing, and later developed her career there.
She ended up studying at four music schools including CIM, the first jazz school in Europe, and became the first Korean jazz singer to perform at the MIDEM (the world music album expo). She won the grand prize in the Antibes and Juan Le Pang International Jazz Festival and later became the first Korean professor at CIM.
At age 36, she seems to have the career and the talents that Korea appreciates. But while her album “So I Am” was fifth on the French jazz charts last year, her earlier releases in Korea have bombed.
This makes her a French star who is relatively inexpensive to hire in the domestic market.
“Let me put it this way,” she says carefully. “It makes me wonder why Korea has not been more enthusiastic about making good use of me,” she said, referring to herself as a potential asset in cultivating Korea’s French connection.
Nah said she envied the relaxed and open minds of the French, who accepted a different sound from a new Asian singer to their musical scene. Nah remembers times when she tried to imitate the husky deep voice of Afro-American jazz singers, but her teachers steered her back towards her naturally gifted high, soft voice, similar to a classic soprano. This suited her better in her performances.
“It took me a long time to realize that it was the unique tone of my voice that made me stand out among jazz musicians,” she said. “After all, jazz is about being loose and improvising.”
Nah recently declined to teach at several Korean music colleges even though she quit working at a French school.
“I need to concentrate more on singing,” she said. “To those who want my help, I tell them to practice and to start that at home.”

by Lee Min-a

Nah’s Asia-Australia tour started Sunday in Osaka. From there, she moves to Indonesia, Australia, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and then to South Korea. Her Korean performance will be held on May 14 at the LG Art Center located near Yeoksam station on subway line No. 2. Tickets cost from 30.000 won to 60,000 won. For reservations, call: (02) 1588-7890.
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