Thursday, June 7, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: MBC’s “I AM a Singer” Season 2 (4)

Naneun Gasuda (나는 가수다) or NAGASU (나가수)

In Korea, May is a sad month, maybe not to all, but to those who still remember.  In the city of Gwangju, South Korea, 32 years ago in May of 1980, 4,369 civilians were killed, missing, or wounded during the uprising, which is now officially called the Gwangju Democratic Uprising or just simply Oilpal (5/18) in reference to the date the uprising broke out.  Three notable films that deal with the uprising are A Petal (1996), Peppermint Candy (2000), and May 18 (2007). (Watch Peppermint Candy (with no English subtitles) and May 18 (with English subtitles) on Youtube.)

On the fourth night of NAGASU, when six singers, the top three from Group A and B, competed to determine the singer of the month, Park Wankyu chose to sing Buchiji Aneun Pyeonji (부치지 않은 편지, “The Unsent Letter”), won the competition, and graduated with honor. The song was originally a poem written by Jeong Hoseung, a popular South Korean poet, to pay a tribute to the victims of the GDU.  It was composed by Baek Changwoo, a grassroots activist songwriter, and sung by the late Kim Kwangseok, a legendary grassroots activist/popular singer.  It was featured on the “JSA: Joint Security Area” soundtrack and also was frequently used to honor the memory of the late Roh Moohyun, the 16th President of South Korea (2003–2008), who passed away in May.

Before his performance, Park said to an audience, “My heart will ache while singing the song,” and asked them to listen with their hearts, not ears.  The long white scarf tied around his wrist, which reminded of Korea’s traditional Salpuri dance, added a final touch to his sorrowful yet passionate rendition of the song.  The Salpuri dance was originally performed as part of the rituals to appease the dead spirits.  (Watch the Salpuri dance on Youtube.)

Backstage, after his performance was over, Park said he had tried to harbor no selfish motive at all while singing the song and thanked the audience for embracing the song with such a heavy message and rewarding him for singing a beautiful song of May that aches.

It was not only Park but Lee Eunmi, Kim Gunmo, and JK Kim Dongwook who delivered the barely-heard songs on TV which meaningfully marked the last night of May in Korea.  Lee chose Yang Hee-eun’s Hangyeryeong (한계령, “The hangye Ridge”), Kim chose Jeong Taechoon’s Si-ine Maeul (시인의 마을, “Village of a Poet”), and JK chose Lee Yeonsil’s Jjilleggot (찔레꽃, “A Brier Flower”).  Yang used to be considered a flag bearer for the grassroots activist singers, whether she wanted to be or not, while Jeong’s undoubtedly been the epitome of the grassroots activist singers/song writers along with his wife and singer, Park Eunok.  Jjilleggot, “A Brier Flower,” was written by Lee Taeseon, a children’s poet, in 1972, based on a poem for children which was written by the legendary children’s story writer and poet Lee Weonsoo in 1930.

All of Lee, Kim, and JK’s performances were much understated yet superbly delivered, but only the first two plus Park Wankyu were voted to make the top three and as mentioned above, Park was chosen the singer of the month and graduated.

I think it would’ve been impossible unless the show had been broadcast live, considering the current political and media climate in Korea.  And starting from last Sunday (5/27/2012), the show got back to its old self, i.e., they started pre-recording the show a day before its scheduled broadcast, so  I wonder if such songs will ever be heard again on NAGASU.  Or, maybe I'm just too paranoid.

Park Wankyu: "The Unsent Letter"
In Jeonju Great Concert (6/9/2012)

[STUDIO VERSIONPark Wankyu: "The Unsent Letter"
on MBC's NAGASU (aired on 5/27/2012)

Lyrics:  “The Unsent Letter”

The leaves of grass look up to the sky even after falling
Flowers easily bloom but can hardly be beautiful
While treading alone the dawn of time,
A man and the death met the freedom
Over the frozen river, into the wind, even without a grave,
Into the fierce snowstorm, even without a song,
You flow like a petal
Farewell, my dear
Your tears will soon turn into a river
Your love will soon turn into a song
You’re flying with a mountain in your mouth
A little bird of tears!
Go without looking back
Farewell, my dear

Original Version: Kim Kwangseok
Buchiji Aneun Pyeonji "The Unsent Letter" (1998)

[STUDIO VERSION] Lee Eunmi: "The Hangye Ridge"
on MBC's NAGASU (aired on 5/27/2012)

Lyrics:  “The Hangye Ridge”

That mountain tells me not to cry, not to cry
In the inmost recess of it, the valleys are wet underfoot
That mountain tells me to forget, to forget
It strokes down my chest.
(Refrain)  Ah! But I want to live like a gust of wind and die
Like a wandering wind that drives clouds of tears to this mountain and to that one
That mountain tells me to go down, to go down
It pushes my weary shoulders

Original Version: Yang Hee-eun
Hangyeryeong " The Hangye Ridge" (1985)

[STUDIO VERSIONKim Gunmo: "Village of a Poet"
on MBC's NAGASU (aired on 5/27/2012)

Lyrics:  “Village of a Poet”

Open the window and uhm… look out
The sizzling hot, fierce wind
That blows into your empty heart,
Waving the flag hung toweringly up above

Close your eyes gently and listen
To the clattering hooves that bring the panting friends
And befall your silent heart
Like a fierce horse running on a far-off land

Who would throw me a handkerchief?
Who would put it on my small chest?
Who would render the rhythms for a mask dance?
Who would make me dance to those rhythms?

(Refrain)  I’d like to be a friend of solitude, a friend of wandering,
Or even a poet in agony who’s lost in thought
Like an ascetic wanderer who goes over the hill at sunset,
Watching the oblique rays of the setting sun,
I’ll listen to the sound of nightfall on the village of a poet

Close the umbrella and get rained on
The sky comes closer to you
And there’s something melancholy about the wet air
That rains on your shady heart

Who would come close to me and talk to me?
Who would hold my small hand?
Who would be a traveling companion of my destiny?
Who would be a friend of a young poet?

Original Version: Jeong Taechoon
Si-ine Maeul "Village of a Poet" (1978)

[STUDIO VERSIONJK Kim Dongwook: "A Brier Flower"
on MBC's NAGASU (aired on 5/27/2012)


  1. What is wrong with listening to these songs in the current South Korea if it was one of the roots of the current democracy era?

  2. FYI, South Korea is ranked 44th in press freedom, falling below Botswana, South Africa and Ghana according to the recently released Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2011-12.,1043.html

  3. okay.. that's cue for shut up Yimo!

  4. Haha! Didn't mean it though. It's just a veeeeery sensitive issue and I just wanted to give you the "objective" data, not my personal opinion. :)

  5. Thank you for information on these songs. I'd heard them in Korean, but I couldn't find much info on them in English! I speak a little, but not enough to do research...

  6. Anonym @9:56 PM, it always makes me happy when my blog helps someone who wants to know about Korea. Thanks back!


REPORT VIDEO ERRORS: If any of the videos uploaded here is no longer available, please report it in the comment so that it can be fixed or replaced.