Folk singer celebrates 35-year anniversaryBoom! A powerful voice full of energy belted out and filled the room of reporters and photojournalists, who all appeared immediately enchanted.
“Nothing else matters without you even if everything in the world is in my hand or if the world turns eternal / Let’s not get sick, don’t go before me / I have no other wish if you would only be with me,” Yang Hee-eun sang without accompaniment during an impromptu concert. The moment the song stopped everyone in the room cheered and some of the female reporters held their hands to their hearts and sighed.
“I wrote this song for my husband when he was sick and the thought that came to my mind was that I needed nothing else but to grow old with my husband,” Yang said on Wednesday at a press conference celebrating her 35th anniversary as a Korean folk music artist. Yang, 55, is one of the few active folk singers in Korea that date back to the 1970’s and ’80’s.
The song was the third track of her newly released album, “Yang Hee Eun 35.” Yang said all of the tracks were new, as on her previous albums. “In the last five years or so, folk singers from the ’70s and ’80s have been returning to the music scene, but in many cases there aren’t many new songs. Most folk singers repeat their best songs from the past but what we need is new songs,” she said.
Yang said her album consisted of new music because she didn’t want to linger on her past but to think of this anniversary as a new start and celebrate aging well and making better music.
She said she was able to become one of Korea’s best-known folk singers and has lasted more than three decades because the public takes her songs to heart. “The songs are mine when they are in the making. Once they go public, the songs are no longer my own,” Yang said.
Yang was born in Seoul in 1952 and made her debut in 1971 while still a freshman at Sogang University, singing “Morning dew.” She has said she started singing to earn money, since the 1970s was a difficult time and she was the eldest of three girls in her family. That part-time job turned into a full-time career.
She also became a radio show host in 1971 so her voice has been heard by the Korean audience for many years. Yang’s debut song, however, was banned three years later by the government as the lyrics, which included a line about enduring an ordeal, were frequently sung during anti-government gatherings. Several other songs, including “The Song of an Old Soldier,” were also banned. She left the music scene and Korea for the United States after getting married in 1987 and returned to Korea in 1993.
The radio show Yang currently hosts, “Yeoseongshidae,” which translates as “The age of women,” first aired in 1999.
“When I started ‘Yeoseongshidae’ I was going through menopause,” Yang said. “Depression fell upon me, and reading all those letters sent by listeners about women being getting beaten up by their husbands and other family disputes, I wondered what difference [the show] would make. After five years of speaking into the microphone I realized that those who even send their stories to the station are the ones that are brave. There are so many women out there that find it hard to discuss personal matters even with close friends and family.”
“I have noticed that the radio show helps women find a shoulder to lean on and to form an unseen coalition by sharing stories with other listeners in similar situations,” she added.
She said one of the songs on the new album was dedicated to such brave women.
Oh Sook-hee, a close friend of Yang who was sitting at the back of the room during the press conference, took the microphone and said, “I’m here to expose Ms. Yang’s secret, which is that she has stage fright.” Ms. Oh is a guest on Yang’s radio show every Wednesday.
Yang smiled and said, “It is true, I have a fear of going on stage.” She said most of her close friends and especially her husband have frequently asked her why she doesn’t quit singing on stage if she is too afraid to go on.
She said the worst situation is when her mind goes blank and she can’t even remember her lyrics. Yang said she never had stage fright when she was younger and back then she could sing anywhere if she had a guitar
But stage fright or fear has never stopped her from pursuing her music career.
Yang said that she felt physically exhausted because of her age and working as both a singer and a radio host. “When I asked a television producer of same age if he liked the singer Yang Hee-eun or the radio host Yang Hee-eun, he simply replied, why not do both, while I still can?” Yang said.
Yang said she would never quit until her close friends told her it was time to leave the stage.
She plans a concert next month to celebrate her 35 years in the business.
by Lee Ho-jeong