Korean Men is the better successful fusion of traditional Korean and contemporary music performance to grace the Korea National Day and Culture Festival events in Abuja.
National Day celebrations in Nigeria often comprise the brief visit of artistes from host embassies with extremely limited amount of time spent performing at a few selected venues, and opening ceremonies.
While countries like the US and Spain, slate five to seven days for the artistes to tour one or the two major cities – Lagos and Abuja, working with local artistes, others as Korea channel national day activities towards the promotion of fusion the traditional Korean music and contemporary music genre.
Korea Men was no different. It was a fusion of traditional folk music with Jazz. And as group’s lead vocalist, Lee Hee-moon said the improvisational traits of both genres (jazz and Gyeonggi-minyo – Korean folk music) enabled an original rhythm and harmony that roused intermittent soft applauses from large audience of diplomatic, official and average Nigerian participants till the end of the night.
Comprising of seven men – four from a band, Prelude, spotting celloist and Pyeongchang Olympic Games music director, Choi Jin-Bae, pianist Ko Hee-an, drummer Han Woong-won and saxophonist & spokesman for the group Richard Rho; minyo duo vocalists Shin Seung-tae and Jo Won-jeok of Nomnom, and folk singer, Lee Hee-moon.
Despite the largely unfamiliar folk repertoire of the group’s act, the experimentation paid off. The skillful blend of Hee-moon’s wailing voice with either Rho’s saxophone or Hee-an’s piano relayed emotions being evoked, be it the rambunctious fun of Like This, Like That, the bluesy notes Cloudy Days in June and July, or the long-suffering resignation of a Difficult Love.
Top act of the performance is undoubtably Song of Youth. The sad, reminiscent, and nostalgic qualities of the song resonate with the audience, providing sudden clarity to the lyrics – about living in the moment than reminiscing of youth past. Hee-mon’s folksy pitch as he sashays across the front row audience to lead up an into a dance, an elderly Korean yielded added more emotion and context to the song. The stark contrast of the suited singer’s voluminous white hair and hanbok dressed older female captured the beauty of the moment – a meeting of the traditional and the contemporary.
By the time the group rounded off to familiar acts of Gangwondo-nized version of Arirang, Korea’s second national anthem, and Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World, it has put its stamp to the iconic number complete with a solo end of the song by Rho.
As its first visit to Africa and Nigeria, the group was impressed with the people and the city of Abuja, which Rho described as one of the top major cities he has travelled to. But three days is too brief to generate meaningful network to yield collaborative projects desired by the group and Nigerian audience.
For what it’s worth the performance made for pleasant and tasteful entertainment the diverse audience appreciated. It exemplified the success, originality and beauty of the fusion of traditional, western and contemporary cultures via music.