Once again, London will play host to the K-Music Festival across October and November. An interesting line up will this year include Ssing Ssing and Urban Sound.
Since its creation in 2013, this annual celebration of Korean music has offered the chance to see and hear a stunning selection of traditional and contemporary music from across the musical spectrum. Jambinai, Black String and Jiha Park are some of the artists that have performed at the festival, now attracting a rapidly expanding international audience.
Produced and directed by the Korean Cultural Centre UK and Serious, K-Music presents a series of concerts that reflect the dynamic Korean music scene – where artists draw on the past, explore the borders of tradition and modernity and intertwine old and new.
Glam rock/funk band Ssing Ssing, reminiscent of the rock and worldbeat of Talking Heads, open the festival at the Purcell Room on 2nd October; Ensemble E-Do, led by Kyung-Hwa Yu, bridge the gaps of Korean traditional music, jazz and rock at Rich Mix on 9th October and Urban Sound combine the traditional with the experimental, using Eastern instruments and piano, at Kings Place on 19th October.
At the heart of this year’s festival will be a full-length performance of pansori – Korean opera and one of the world’s great musical art forms – at the Purcell Room on 3rd November by legendary artist of this form, Ahn Sook-Sun. This, though deeply traditional, reveals the rich vein of music and singing that contemporary Korean musicians continually draw on.
The Near East Quartet, who release their eponymously titled album on ECM this summer, perform at the Purcell Room on 19th November, exploring Korean music, jazz and pure sound, with special guest Kyungso Park. For the final concert in the festival, world-renowned jazz singer Youn Sun Nah performs a rare London concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall on 20th November, supported by Hyelim Kim & Alice Zawadzki.
Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX
Tuesday 2nd October
Ssing Ssing has been making waves across the globe, bringing glam rock and funk, together with a theatrical twist that takes inspiration from the shamanistic tradition. In the words of vocalist Heemoon Lee: “in Korean traditional art, male shamans, called baksu, have the body of a male. But as mediums, they need more than a single sexual identity, because they’re channelling both male and female spirits. When I act a female character and sing, I have to overcome the fact of my being a male sorikkun (singer) and try my utmost to bring a more neutral, unisex feeling to the performance”
“…Ssing Ssing aren’t like any other band I’ve ever seen or heard……one of my most memorable Tiny Desk Concerts of all time”
– Bob Boilen, NPR Tiny Desk Producer
Rich Mix, Shoreditch E1 6LA
Tuesday 9th October
The rhythm-heavy ensemble E-Do is led by Kyung-Hwa Yu, one of the most acclaimed artists in Korea. This sextet uses traditional Korean instruments such as the chulhyungeum (an iron-stringed instrument that sounds like an electric guitar), janggu (drum) and daegeum (bamboo flute), alongside the double bass and acoustic guitar, accompanied by soaring pansori vocals.
Kings Place Hall 2, Kings Cross N1 9AG
Friday 19th October
A collaboration between Korean percussionist Jihye Kim, Chinese percussionist Beibei Wang, Taiwanese/Australian pianist Belle Chen and Korean piri soloist (a double-reed bamboo flute), Seayool Kim, Urban Sound combine the traditional and experimental using an array of Eastern instruments and Western piano in an exploration of improvisation and avant-garde soundscapes.
“Original and provocative”
– Brian Eno on Belle Chen
Purcell Room, Southbank Centre SE1 8XX
Saturday 3rd November
A rare opportunity to see Korea’s traditional opera sung by the country’s most legendary pansori singer. Ahn Sook-Sun will perform Heungbuga, one of the most humorous songs, accompanied by male pansori singer by Kim Jun-Soo. Pansori is a way of sharing myths, folklore and drama through limitless and passionate vocal-led music. Ahn Sook-Sun has been performing and winning awards internationally for decades and is a “living cultural asset” in Korea – part of an elite group of performers considered to be the best at what they do in traditional art forms.
“If you listen to the finest work of pansori you can feel your heart stop beating. Pansori isn’t just about singing. ‘Sori’ means ‘sound’ in Korean. …..If you listen to pansori closely, even though the audience may not understand the language, they can feel the emotion of the pansori singer expressed through sound and breathing”
– Ahn Sook-Sun
“Pansori is as rich and earthy as flamenco or blues, with lyrics that are as poetic as either of those forms”
– Joe Boyd (Record Producer)
Near East Quartet + Kyungso Park
Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX
Monday 19th November
Near East Quartet have been a force in Korean music since 2010, juxtaposing elements of contemporary jazz and traditional Korean music with pure sound exploration to create new forms. Saxophonist/ clarinettist Sungjae Son and guitarist Suwuk Chung have been members from the outset and the group has recently added a pansori singer and highly creative drummer Soojin Suh. They release their eponymously titled album on ECM this summer.
Kyungso Park is a composer, player and improviser of the gayageum, a traditional Korean stringed instrument that sounds like a cross between a harp, an oud and a theremin. She freely breaks down the borders between traditional and contemporary music and at K-Music 2016 she premiered an exquisite collaboration with British saxophonist, Andy Sheppard – “an engrossing improvisational encounter.” (The Guardian)
Youn Sun Nah + Hyelim Kim & Alice Zawadzki
Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre SE1 8XX
Tuesday 20th November
One of Korea’s great voices, Youn Sun Nah first made her name in France, where Le Monde enthused about her “magnificent voice and passionate originality”. There’s a clear influence of chanson in her performance – whether she’s singing Johnny Cash, Nine Inch Nails, a jazz standard or one of her own terrific songs, she’s always telling a story.
“Her determination to make each number a self-contained art song made this concert – the highlight of the K-Music Korean music and arts festival – a fascinating exercise in contrast and control”
– THE TIMES
Hyelim Kim is a superb daegum (bamboo flute) player and together with violinist and vocalist Alice Zawadzki, who has a unique ability to compose, perform and improvise across genres, they create extraordinarily beautiful music.