Hawaiian sounds by the Han – 2012 Lu’au Ukulele Festival in Seoul

Written by on September 19, 2012 in Arts, Lifestyle

Being able to listen to live music from other cultures in Seoul is a treat. When you’re able to listen to that music outdoors, in the glorious sunshine and the cool autumn breeze under a blue, blue sky, it really can’t get any better.


Last weekend, I ventured over to Nanji Hangang Park to see the Lu’au Ukulele Festival (LUF). Nanji Hangang Park is huge. It is one of the parks lining the banks of the Han river, on the northwest bank. It used to be a garbage dump until it was totally revamped during the 90s and early 2000s as an ecological park. With large camping grounds, baseball parks, water fountains, a yachting pier, and bicycle rentals; it’s an all-around family park. It’s also a popular place for outdoor concerts.

Nanji Hangang Park location in the red circle

When I first heard of the ukulele festival I was immensely intrigued. Ukulele festival? In Seoul? I was aware that the popularity of the Hawaiian traditional instrument had soared in Korea thanks to the many reality TV shows featuring people auditioning with the ukulele, but I wasn’t aware that it was to the extent where a festival would be taking place; I was under the impression that not many of us Koreans were familiar with the instrument. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Following the ukulele people

When I got off at the bus stop to go the park, instead of following the posters which had been placed neatly on the ground to guide us to the venue, I just followed the hordes of people with ukulele bags slung over their shoulders.

A great thing about LUF was, it wasn’t just a concert; it was a festival. No reservations to be made, no tickets to be purchased. All you had to do was go and have a good time. LUF’s festivities started off in the early afternoon. Many people spread out their picnic blankets in front of the stage to enjoy the glorious weather and stayed there until the sun went down. Many booths selling ukuleles and souvenirs, offering ukulele lessons, and introducing Hawaiian culture were set up on each side of the grounds:

Browsing for ukuleles at the many booths

Ukuleles come in various shapes and sizes

Korean Polynesian Dance Association’s booth

The featured musicians were from various countries; it was an interesting lineup. There was a ukulele contest but I missed that and unfortunately I also missed the Korean ukulele artists such as Loco Mango:

*Video from official channel: www.youtube.com/user/WIKIWIKISHOP

I just went in time to catch popular musician Katz Seiji’s performance. (I did shoot videos but they ALL came out uber shaky. I think I was swinging to the beat without realizing it.)

Katz Seiji warms up the crowd

I discovered while listening to Katz Seiji that I had a very narrow perception of what “ukulele music” was “supposed to” sound like. The main reason why I know of the ukulele – besides having relatives in Hawaii – is because of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole:

*Video from official channel: www.youtube.com/user/mountainapplecompany

I think Kamakawiwo’ole’s style of music was what I had thought of as “true ukulele music” until now. Of course, I’m aware the ukulele is an instrument which can be used to make all sorts of music, but somehow that fact was input into my brain without going through any of my senses; it was a completely cerebral observation. To actually hear and feel different genres of music being played live with the ukulele was quite a new experience. Katz Seiji played pop, rock, jazz, and classical music – he really did a full circle – to a very enthusiastic crowd.

Katz Seiji rips loose

How many of you have ukuleles? Hold them up in the air!]

After Katz Seiji, the musicians of the Kanile’a Ukulele group took the stage: Chris Salvador, Aldrine Guerrero, and Joe Souza. They performed traditional Hawaiian songs and some more contemporary pieces as the sun went down.

Kanile’a Ukulele musicians perform

Guerrero and Salvador had participated in a ukulele workshop during the festival as well:

*Video from official channel: www.youtube.com/user/WIKIWIKISHOP

All in all, not only was the music inspiring, the venue was incredibly beautiful. I wished the sun would stay up for just a little bit longer, or at least, the sunset would.

Sunset over Nanji Hangang Park

This was the festival’s second year. From what I’ve seen this year, I’m quite certain there’s going to be a third, and I’m hoping by next year I’d be able to proudly hold up my own ukulele in the air with the others. Or be able to play “Arirang” at least.

About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul