Samulnori percussionist celebrates 60th birthday

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Samulnori percussionist celebrates 60th birthday

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Kim Duk-soo, a renowned traditional percussionist, celebrates his 60th birthday with a show at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul. [JoongAng Ilbo]


Kim Duk-soo has been a percussionist from day one. His father, a traveling musician himself, is said to have committed his son to the art before he was born, vowing to pass on the family tradition.

Sixty years later, Kim has emerged as perhaps the most renowned samulnori percussionist alive, a master of the traditional Korean genre. The word samul stands for “four objects” and nori for “play,” as the music is performed with four traditional instruments: the kkwaenggwari, jing, janggu and buk.

Samulnori was originally performed in rice farming villages in order to celebrate good harvests, but through the years it has evolved in different ways. Kim has been leading these transitions, founding the SamulNori Ensemble in 1978, which performs worldwide to spread the unique Korean folklore music.

In celebration of Kim’s 60th birthday and samulnori career, he is organizing a show titled “Heung: Music on Top of the Road” at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul.

When the JoongAng Ilbo met with Kim earlier this month, he expressed his gratitude toward the Korean people who have enjoyed his performances and said that the concert is dedicated to them.

“This concert is meant to be a way for the younger generation of samulnori viewers to see what it’s all about and how they can further enrich our music,” Kim says.

Kim’s relationship with the genre runs deep. His father, Kim Mun-hak, first introduced him to the janggu, a traditional Korean drum. Kim Mun-hak was a performer of the Namsadang, a Korean male itinerant troupe that performed a variety of arts such as singing, dancing and acrobatics.

By age 5, the younger Kim made his debut by joining the troupe, and after having thoroughly studied the music at the National High School of Traditional Arts, he started to lead his life as performer.

But as he grew older, the traditional performances also began to adopt a very ’70s vibe. Kim was actually banned from taking part in his customary performances for being pigeonholed as an “informant” by the strict military regime.

“I remember going to the police station several times because I was arrested for violating demonstration laws for road traffic violations and rallies while performing on the streets,” he says.

But this did not stop, and perhaps encouraged, his devoted following and recognition as a master of the art. At 60 years of age, Kim says he now hopes to give back to those who were there for his journey.

The concert will be divided into two parts. The first segment begins with several ritual ceremonies and continues on with routines that show the processes of how traditional parades - gilnori (street parades), madangnori (traditional outdoor performances) - and samulnori originated.

The following segment depicts the evolution of samulnori and the genre’s outlook for the future.

Kim’s friends are also joining him on stage, including well-known pansori (traditional vocal and percussion) singer Ahn Sook-sun and the quintet gugak (Korean classical music) group “Ensemble Sinawi,”

“The concert will be about Kim’s past and the kind of path he will take later in his life,” says the CEO of Golmogil Theater, Park Geun-hyung, who is also the director of the show.

By Song Ji-hye [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

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