Western collectors searching for Korean music.
What can you expect ?
My interest for Korean music is wide, but I am still limited through my lack of understanding any Korean, and I still listen through western eyes, filter through a taste that is expressing a kind of universal language of music, aesthetics, with an open ear and the recognition of creative and original expressions. In that way I will skip easier conservative repetitions and will not have the urge to confirm just the recognition of what is remembered rather than discovered.
What for me is absolute unique in Korean music that spans from the 30s and was vivid until the 70s is emotional integrity, a quality which as an urge to find that human condition you can discover in Korean movies too, as a quality of the people, backed by neo-confusianism and honesty. These qualities in music fall apart abit because of sensorship which breaks it down to nostalgia, safety and repetition rather than expressing an urge to survive the true expression, which makes music from then onwards more conservative or weaker as an inner voice.
For several reasons I have to compare Korea for what happens in Japan during the same period 30s-70s because in those days there is kept a creative connection.
What is worth hearing from music from the 30s is comparable to a degree to what happens to enka in Japan. It mixes with jazz and American styles. For the Japanese it was a sound of modern urban life, for Korea it is a survival into modernity and colonialism which gave people an extra effort to create new folk songs and the expression of emotionility that connects people. Because of these extras Korea succeeds to sound so original in nearly each voice from that era and in the subtle warmth of its band musicians. When Koreans now prefer not to look back to hat period, I prefer to emphasize how much they distinguished themselves from Japan with their on unique flavour.
After the Korean war, in the 50s musicians did an extra effort to renew that new folk sound once more simply because one prefered to distinguish oneself of the Japanese roots that were connected. That makes this period interesting too. Altough you can hear how a nostalgic new traditional form trot already tend to sound recognisable and repetitive. In this period the arrangements come to a form that keeps all attractive elements intact.
Just like in Japan the 60s gave a big renewal of folk music sound with the birth of folk song music and singer-songwriters. While before Japan was filtering music, South-Korea continues on its own a strong censorship which only alows healthy non-critical songs to be recorded. Stylistically these chose songs are the sensitive kind of human nature, the soft folk sound that is comparable to singer/songwriter folk from the 70s from the UK and the US, a peiod worth checking out. Again, the emotional almost naivity of integrity stands out in quality even to UK standards. The country proves again to have a good choice of voices.
An interesting scene for me are the harmony voices. Kim Sisters were a big hit in the US, but no CD has been rereleased with their works yet.
A small period of disco and funk might be worth investigating to some too.
In the 70s Under American influence a psychedelic scene emerges during the Vietnam war, backed by bands around Shin Yung Hyun, but also Key Boys, Key Brothers He5/He5, Last Chance, .. which only lasted as long as the Americans supported the recordings, which lasted as long as the South-Koreans provided soldiers. With the lost Vietnam war and the US retreat censorship totally broke down that scene which had been the most important one so far. It’s records are are but all them are worth tot race.
Since renewed sensorship music is less interesting for a very long time. The conservative trot becomes even more repetitive. The folk scene becomes a scene of ballads and even creative efforts aren’t that rewarding. There are few creative efforts in the direction of a softer kind of hard rock which are almost all of them a bit tame. Only San Ul Lim, as an amateur rather psych rock band shows how something was still possible.
After the 90s only a few bands here and there show creative records stand alones. And recently commeerciality with K-Pop has grown so big that there’s hardly room for a creative album. Often I wondered if it still is possible. Even creative folk or pop sounds empty of true expressions. Kim Doo Soo is one of these new folkies that kept integrity intct. A band like Jambinai for me stand still stands out at least an original sound can still be created.
Gerald Van Waes, 2019