I attended the 4th KPop Academy at the Korean Cultural Centre, UK. We looked at the evolution of Korean music through history at one of the sessions. The lecture was given by Professor Keith Howard.
The lecture started off with a brief history of Korean Music and its influences during the three kingdom era. Then he went on to tell us about the cultural exchanges of The Silk roads which is a series of cultural and trade routes that were central to interaction between Asian countries during different periods of history. This enabled not just trade but also exchange of ideas and culture such as religion, art and music.
The Silk roads: Central Asia ⇉ China ⇉ Korea ⇉ Japan.
Korean music is known to have instruments as a central aspect to it. Over the years some musical instruments have become extinct but some old instruments can still be found today, an example is the string instrument Gayageum which is arguably the best Korean musical instrument.
Over the years different aspects of folklore, religion such as Buddhism and culture has greatly influenced Korean music. This also influenced the musical instruments of the time. One of such examples is the Daegum, a large bamboo transverse flute used in traditional Korean music. It has a buzzing membrane that gives it a special timbre. It is used in court, aristocratic, and folk music, as well as in contemporary classical music, popular music, and film scores.
The chamber music best-loved by classical Korean musicians is Yongsan hoesang ~ Mass to the buddha in the spiritual mountain. It is the most famous suite of movements in orchestral traditions.
Other influences on Korean tradition which translates to music is Shamanism. Koreans regard it as the roots of their indigenous culture. Shaman rituals, blending music and dance to ensure efficacy, restores peace in the spirit world or aid the dead to pass over from this world to the other world.
Fun Fact: The hat that the men used to wear in ancient times known as ‘Gat‘ is worn because up until the 18th century, Korean men didn’t cut their hair but tied it in a knot on the top of their head. The hat was worn to cover the knot. You might have seen the hat in historical dramas and wondered, now you know why 😉 Here’s a picture below of Kim Soo Hyun wearing one.
Next we looked at folk music which is divided into music from the North and South. Examples of folk music are Samulnori, Nonga and Pungmul. The music of the North and South differ in vocal styles and modes with each having a distinct sound. Professor Howard played a few of these music for us, check them out below.
1. This first one is called 강강술래~Ganggansullae which is a 5,000-year-old Korean dance that was first used to bring about a bountiful harvest and has developed into a cultural symbol for Korea. It incorporates singing, dancing, and playing and is exclusively performed by women. It is now performed during Chuseok holiday.
2. This second piece is by Yong Woo Kim. I couldn’t find the original piece that was played for us in class but I feel this one is an equally good one and you will enjoy it.
P.S The one that was played for us is called Yongchon’ gam, it is about updating folk songs for the modern world. click on the link below to listen
If you are interested in listening to more variations of classical and traditional Korean music, you can find an extensive music bank by clicking HERE. enjoy!!
Fast forward to 2004 which brought about the beginning of the “Gugak Festival” where traditional music was given new formats and fusions to attract new and younger audiences. Hence with the advent of such medium, gugak fusion is today becoming very popular as well as cosmopolitan.
I couldn’t find the phenomenal example we heard in class of the popular folk song Arirang infused with rap, however I found this clip on YouTube of various KPop idols performing it live. It is equally good, Enjoy!!
Below is a cover of the Latvian song Million Roses in Korean by the traditional Korean band Infinity of Sound. You can see one of the girls playing the instrument ‘Gayageum‘. This shows us that the fusion of music in Korea is not limited to just traditional and modern Korean music but also elements from music around the world.
If you know or listen to 21st century Korean music also known as KPop then you should know a bit about the foundation of KPop and the first generation idols that were the first known band that introduced rap to the Korean music scene. I present to you Seo Taeiji and the boys.
Fun fact: Papa YG also known as Yang Hyun Suk was part of the group.
Seo taiji during their early years collaborated with the popular gugak band SamulNori. Here’s one of the songs, an example of Gugak fusion.
Next we ventured into the reggae scene in Korea. The first reggae record was P’ingye~excuse. This kind of 한국 레게~Korean reggae was a fusion as well, making it more subtle than the mainstream reggae. Roo’ra, the korean hip hop and dance group popularized the fusion of Korean rap and reggae. Its name is an abbreviation of Roots of Reggae.
Fun fact: G-Dragon was part of the group Little Roora at the age of 5. It was a take on the original Roora.
Here’s a video below by the Korean singer 스컬~Skull, titled Don’t Walk Away. This is a perfect example of Korean Music meets Reggae.
In conclusion the introduction of western music in Korea was known as K-wave 1 with groups like Seo taiji which was all about the music. K-wave two on the other hand was about different kinds of dances largely represented by the hip hop group Roo’ra and we can say we are now in K-wave three which in my opinion is a mixture of both generations. Korean music has gone through stages of evolution over the years but has successfully kept part of their traditional elements, translating it into western culture to fit modern times, whilst still preserving its essence. This can be seen in all aspects of Korean culture which is quite interesting.
I leave you with this interesting video by the KPop group ToppDogg, they used traditional instruments and western instruments in their music video. The combination is outstanding.
For more information about K-Pop Academy and what we learnt, check out Giirl Meets World