Korean-American uses music to promote peace

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Korean-American uses music to promote peace

A Korean-American singer-songwriter, Mike Park, thinks his lyrics could easily get lost in translation when he travels outside of English-speaking countries. Maybe it’s because, as he writes in his blog, he “uses imagery and subtle anecdotes” rather than phrases like “‘she’s the girl at the mall’ or ‘I kissed her last fall’ bullshit lyrics.”
But for the former singer and guitarist with punk rock groups the Bruce Lee Band and The Chinkees, the dramatic gap between a dynamic clap-along from audience members at a recent performance and earlier shows before young aggressive crowds in Hongdae could take some getting used to.
“I feel at home when I come to Korea,” said Mr. Park, 37, while sipping green tea at a hotel lounge in Seoul. He performed two live shows and a concert on national television during his recent week-long visit to the country. “But I also feel foreign here. I look the same as others, but I don’t speak the language.”
Indeed, much of his music is about his experiences of displacement, both home and abroad. “Train Maps” from his latest album, “For the Love of Music,” is about a foreigner on a train ride in Japan.
The opening of “I Don’t Speak Korean,” which he sings entirely in Korean, describes Park’s embarassment over his inability to speak his parents’ language, but in a playful manner.
His personal frustrations have often been expressed in political themes in his music.
“Ice Cube, Korea Wants A Word With You,” written when he was frontman for the group Skankin’ Pickle, was a response to Ice Cube’s “Black Korea,” which dealt with heightened conflicts between African-American and Korean communities in the United States during the L.A. riots.
His song “Don’t Sit Next to Me Just Because I’m Asian,” a title track from the Bruce Lee Band, whose members were all Asian, used dark humor and ska and punk styles to speak out against racial inequality.
Perhaps for Park, it comes down to the “philosophy of punk,” which he describes as based on ideas of “free thinking and progressive politics.”
That applies not only to his music, and Park is a strong advocate of community activism.
In 1999, he founded the Plea for Peace Foundation, a non-profit organization made up of bands, which donates money they raise through annual tours and CD sales to promote ideas of peace.
On a personal level, he is a friend of the Korean-American comedienne Margaret Cho. The two met at an American Civil Liberties Union benefit, where Cho was a panel speaker and Mr. Park was a band member.
“It’s Margaret Cho,” a song from the first Skankin Pickle album, was featured on Cho’s 1996 comedy album, “Drunk With Power.”
Since splitting with the Bruce Lee Band, Park has mainly performed solo. He said he likes switching between solo and band performances and the “different dynamics” they involve.
“One is loud and the other is soft. It’s small and big,” he says. “Maybe I’m getting old, but I don’t want to have to pretend that I’m a teenager, shouting on stage all the time.”


by Park soo-mee
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