A world of music in Gwangju

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A world of music in Gwangju


Left to right: jazz singer Na Yun-sun, pansori master Ahn Sook-sun, bossanova vocalist Ithamara Koorax and Indian guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya. Provided by the organizers

Gwangju, a city known today for its part in Korea’s democratization with the historic uprising of May 18, 1980, hopes to rebuild its image as a cultural center with the launch of a global music festival.

The Gwangju World Music Festival, scheduled for Aug. 27 to 29, will involve 42 groups of musicians from 21 countries. They include Europe-based jazz diva Na Yun-sun, Korea’s foremost pansori lyric storytelling virtuoso, Ahn Sook-sun, samulnori percussion master Kim Duk-soo, Indian slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya and Ithamara Koorax, a Brazil-based bossa nova vocalist. French chansons, African traditional music and tango will also be featured.

Though the musicians this year come from all over the world, the focus will be on Asia in the long term, according to the organizer.

Foreign visitors and Gwangju-based bands will perform at four different venues along Guemnamno in the northeastern part of the city. Assistant Minister Lee Byung-hoon of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which is overseeing the event, struck a historical tone at a press conference yesterday.

Geumnamno is where the South Jeolla Provincial Government was located before it moved to neighboring Muan five years ago. Built in the 1930s during the Japanese colonial period, the government building “served as the last battleground between citizens and soldiers dispatched by the military government during the democratization movement period,” said the Gwangju-born official.

The central government late last year embarked on a project to construct an “Asia Culture Complex” on the old site that will be more than five times the size of the Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul when it is completed in 2014. The launch of the music festival and massive construction project are part of Lee’s push to transform “a city in a state of dereliction” to “the hub of Asian culture.”

With the central government as its host, the annual music festival hopes to become a bridgehead for musical exchanges between different countries, with a focus on Asian neighbors, Lee said. “What we are pursuing is not the Korean Wave but collaboration between content creators using their own cultural resources.”

Jae-jin, artistic director of the festival, believes strongly that the festival can succeed. “There are up to 2,300 local festivals nationwide including those with ‘international’ tags. But we don’t simply want to add ourselves to the existing ones. Festivals are like organisms. They have the potential to consistently grow under good circumstances but will die unless sufficient nutrients are provided. And I believe we meet prerequisites for success: quality content, good food and amenities,” he said. “We project it will take three to five years to make it the mainstream gateway to Asian music.”

Two days after the end of the festival, the Kunsthalle Gwangju will open at a square inside the Asia Culture Complex site with a 10-week exhibition by the Swiss-based international art group etoy.CORPORATION. Kunsthalle is German for art hall.

The cultural space spans 1,019 square meters (10,970 square feet) and was built out of 29 recyclable container boxes. The boxes will surround the square like a castle wall, and concert and exhibition halls will be placed at the center. The exhibitions will feature a variety of forms and artistic genres including video, dance works and installations.

“It will become a platform for local and international artists to exchange subcultures,” said Christoph Frank, the director of the Kunsthalle Gwangju.

*All performances at the Gwangju World Music Festival will be free, except for the four concerts to be held at the Bitgoeul Hall on Aug. 28 and 29. Tickets cost 20,000 won ($17) for those who reserve in advance over the Internet at ticket.auction.co.kr. On-site ticket sales are 30,000 won.

By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]
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