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Thursday, February 15, 2007

The sad fragrance of wild rose: Jang Sa-ik

Jang Sa-ik's most recent album Sarami kûriwôsô, came out last December, quite suitably so that I could purchase it while in Korea, and without thinking twice. Hankyoreh has recently had a three-part series of Jang, the Korean singer whose distinctive style isn't quite traditional music but neither modern folk or kayo: part one, part two, and part three.

It's now 10 years since Jang, now 59, published his first album. He was born in Chungcheon, oldest of seven children. His father grew pigs for sale, and was also a renowned changgo drum player. During the last years of elementary school he began to sing - or better, shout - by himself, going out to the woods to sing from the top of his lungs, from which his vocal power developed, and due to abstinence from alcohol and cigarettes, he has also been able to maintain it well. He graduated from a commercial high school in Seoul, and went to work after finishing military service. (Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be any closer details about his wage work in the articles.) He did not show any specific singing talents as young, but did sing throughout all the years, becoming more serious during high school and going to a singing school for three years, "as I thought that it'd live well if I knew how to sing." He was fired from this unnamed job in the mid-70s, and started making a living by doing all kinds of jobs.

During those years, he was losing his contact with singing and music, but his playing of t'aepy'ôngso (see picture on the right) kept the music in him. In the early 90s he was awarded the first price for the instrument in a couple of competitions. He did not sing yet one stage but during gatherings after events (twip'uri), from which he gathered fame, and met pianist Im Tong-ch'ang, which really started his career as a singer. Music critic Kang Hôn recounts a concert from 1996 to which he had booked then unknown Jang, accompanied by Im. Kang was nervous about how Jang would be received, standing alone on a wide stage with a pianist. Jang performed a 10-minute rendering of Hanûl kanûn kil ("Road to heaven") (mp3, 9.7M), after which there was a one-second silence followed by roof-raising applause and cheer. "It was not just a habitual response but a cheer that only an overflowing emotion can raise."

(The response of Finnish audience to the opera singer Kim Woo-kyung's Korean folk song that he did as a concert encore was similar; the opera numbers he did in the ordinary program were received well, but from the folk song, the kind of which the audience must not had heard before, they sensed a wholly different, more moving emotion.)

The title of this note, "sad fragrance of wild rose" comes from his perhaps most renown song Tchillekkot ("Wild rose"), in which he sings about crying all night long for the sadness of the wild rose fragrance. The Hankyoreh reporter asked what has been so sad about it. It had been after a difficult winter '92-93, when Jang had been without a proper job, just parking cars in a relative's car repair.
"That winter went by and spring came. Back then I was living an apartment in Jamsil. One day in May, when leaving the apartment block I felt the fragrance of [tchillekkot] wild rose. I could see only red changmi roses, but the fragrance was different. I looked more closely, and saw the white petals of a shyly blossoming wild rose. It reminded me of my childhood. In the spring we used to eat the white rose petals from the field. The elders said it'll kill insects. The white wild rose cornered behind the red flowers looked so beautiful to me. And I felt the rose was like me: could't stand straight and reach its proper form, but needed to mind others all the time. I felt sad because it seemed so similar to my situation. Just so sad.
And I burst into tears. But after letting out my sadness I felt refreshed. Wiping away my sadness, I felt that it was transformed into joy."
Below, Jang sings Tchillekkot in a concert in 2004:

Jang Sa-ik: Tchillekkot ("Wild rose")

(Tchillekkot as mp3, 5.2M; see this link for more of his songs.)

And here, Jang sings Abôji ("Father"), accompanied only by a guitarist.

Jang Sa-ik: Abôji ("Father")


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Comments to note "The sad fragrance of wild rose: Jang Sa-ik" (Comments to posts older than 14 days are moderated)

<Anonymous Owen> said on 15.2.07 : 

Here's something we can definitely agree on. I'm a big fan. I'm quite disappointed that I didn't get to see Jang Sonsaeng last time I was in Korea... One of the few singers that genuinely sends shivers up and down my spine.

<Anonymous Sonagi> said on 18.3.07 : 

A fine looking man with a moving voice. I'm now a fan.


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