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An electronic ‘Arirang’ for the millennial generation

Jan 22,2018
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[MOON HYUN-WOO]
At the old Seoul Station building, the country’s most famous folk song is getting an EDM makeover.

Team2Blossom, a gugak (traditional Korean music) trio, will perform an electronic dance version of “Arirang,” often considered Korea’s second national anthem, at noon today at Culture Station Seoul 284, an exhibition hall housed inside the old Seoul Station, which sits next to the modern building.

The trio of women, including a haegeum (traditional fiddle) player, gayageum (traditional zither) player and pansori (traditional narrative singing) singer, are performing “Arirang EDM” as part of the 2018 Hanbok Market, an annual exhibition of traditional Korean clothing at Culture Station Seoul 284. To fit the theme, the trio - as incongruous as it may seem - will be dressed in hanbok, traditional Korean clothing, while performing their modern rendition of “Arirang.”

“We want to show all the visitors of the Hanbok Market that enjoying our cultural heritage, such as our music and our clothes, doesn’t always have to be so tied down to tradition,” said Moon Hyun-woo, who is putting the concert together.

Moon, 30, styles himself as a “propagator of Korean cultural heritage.” He is head of Arirang Yurangdan, a traditional performance troupe that travels across the globe spreading Korean culture, and the Arirang School, which trains people in traditional Korean instruments and dance. Given Moon’s experience as a cultural ambassador, the Hanbok Advancement Center, which organizes the market every year, reached out to him for help.

“When Arirang Yurangdan was traveling across the globe performing ‘Arirang’ and other traditional songs and introducing Korean culture, we learned that foreigners were so open to it,” Moon said, “and Koreans realized then how much they had neglected their passion for their own traditions.” This drove him to create events around “Arirang” in Korea, too.

Moon’s obsession with the song began in his childhood, when he was raised abroad. The folk song about longing between two lovers helped him get through difficult times, he said.

When he learned in 2011 that China had registered “Arirang” as part of its own cultural heritage, he couldn’t just “sit and watch,” he recalled. That’s when Moon decided to travel across the globe and let the world know about “Arirang” as part of Korean cultural heritage. He and his troupe, adorned in hanbok, have traveled to 29 cities in 15 countries so far.

Moon is now enrolled in the Social Entrepreneurship MBA program at the Kaist School of Business, with hopes of turning his project into a stable social enterprise.

“I hope to create this virtuous cycle,” he said, “where Koreans really enjoy our own traditional culture, then voluntarily become ambassadors of Korean culture whenever they go out into the world, and then ultimately protect and spread our cultural heritage.”

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]