Gong percussionist to portray patriarch of samulnori genre

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Gong percussionist to portray patriarch of samulnori genre

For an actor who had just won his first big role in a theatrical drama, Go Suk-jin did not look so thrilled. His expression was rather solemn when he agreed to an interview a week before the planned performance.
“Please focus on the man Kim Yong-bae, not me,” the 33-year-old actor said. “He is the man we should remember.”
In the play “This is Kim Yong-bae,” Go plays the title role of Kim Yong-bae, a musician who started a percussion genre called samulnori in 1978. Before then, similar musical performances were performed by traditional folk-entertainment troupes of random sizes in villages.
It was Kim that came up with the idea of performing with only four instruments ― the kkwaenggwari (a small gong), the jing (a gong larger than the kkwaenggwari), the janggu (an hourglass-shaped drum) and the buk (an instrument similar to a bass drum) ― and called it a samulnori band. Kim was the kkwaenggawari player then and Kim Duk-soo, who is now well-known for the Kim Duk Soo SamulNori band, was the janggu player.
Go, also a kkwaenggawari performer, said he was “overwhelmed” to play the role of someone he and his friends respected so much. Despite it being Go’s first experience acting in a big show, he said the acting was not his biggest problem.
“[Kim] was a figure who we learned about from old books and films in college,” Go said. “I keep asking myself if I am doing it right.”
“This is Kim Yong-bae” is the first play staged to commemorate the late gong player.
Twenty years ago, Kim killed himself in his room. Next to him was found his precious gong that had been smashed to pieces. On the wall, he had repeatedly written the Chinese character “Mu,” meaning “nothing.” He was 34 years old.
There are many rumors of why Kim ended his life. One is that he had believed it was impossible to continue studying traditional folk music.
Kim was a complex man. He could be a jolly type when playing the gong, but turned ice-cold and appeared almost frightening when he reached the climax of a performance. He was known to have had many female lovers, but believed to have truly loved none.
“We are going to try to express what he went through and how he might have felt during his time,” Go said.
The play has no dialogue. Instead, it will have dramatic motions and samulnori performances, mixed with the contemporary Western sounds of trumpet, clarinet, violin and cello played by the members of the Seoul Performing Arts Company. The play’s director, Han Tae-suk, is known for his experimental stage works using Korean traditional dance. The highlight of the play is Go playing his kkwaengwari in zeal as the late Kim would have done 20 years before.


by Lee Min-a

“This is Kim Yong-bae” opens tomorrow at the Seoul Arts Center’s Towol Theater. The nearest subway stop is Nambu Bus Terminal station on subway No. 3. Tomorrow’s show is at 3 p.m. On Sunday, the performances are at 3 and 6 p.m. Tickets cost from 20,000 won ($21) to 50,000 won. For more information call, (02) 523-0986.
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