Jang Sa-ik sharing the authentic Korean spirit

Bae Ji-sook in Seoul/The Korea Herald
Asia News Network

Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Jang Sa-ik's music is close to nothing else in the world.

He has the voice of thunder - he often refuses to use microphones and still manages to fill the concert hall - but then whispers gently like a little girl. He sometimes ignores the beat and melodies - his bands are always alert for his improvisations - and he narrates in the middle of a piece that sometimes comes across as "odd" to many people. He mixes his tunes with jazz, blues and other music genres, but manages to keep the indefinable originality.

His presence and the overwhelmingly powerful voice dominates the audience and after he finishes one song, people stand up and give the loudest applause to the man who sings like no one else. His voice tone was regarded the epitome of "han," unique Korean sentiment of a suppressed, but hopeful desire for justice. People often weep or say that the songs represent their stress and sorrow.

However, Jang declared that he is happy now.

"I am happier than ever and I will be happier for a long time," Jang said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

His concert, "Banggapgo, Gomapgo Gippeuda (Welcome, Thank you and Joyful!)," will be staged Nov. 15-16 at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts and move to Keimyung Art Center in Daegu on Nov. 23; Busan Cultural Center on Nov. 29-30; Jeongsimhwa International Cultural Center of Chungnam National University in Daejeon on Dec. 11 and Gimhae Arts and Sports Center, South Gyeongsang Province, on Dec. 15.

"One day I did a TV show with Song Chang-shik and Insooni, both noted singers. I watched it on TV and couldn't resist crying. It was a moment of epiphany - I have been with all these great people spending a great time. Now it is time to thank them!" he said as explained the story behind the show title.

The repertoire will be simpler and even those who do not know his songs will be able to catch up since nearly all of his lyrics are taken from well known poems such as "Haneul ganeun gil (Road to heaven)," "Seom (Island)"and others. He will reinterpret Korean pop songs such as "Bomnaleun ganda (Spring goes by)" and "Dongbaek Agassi (Camellia lady)" by other singers. "I am ready to talk about different things in life and that includes fun, rejoicing, laughter and others," he said.

Jang said the greatest motivation for the joy in life was thanking his past and the experiences that have brought him to where he is now.

Jang managed to debut as a singer at the age of 45 after one miscellaneous job after another.

"I was struggling to make 500,000 won a month by working for my brother-in-law as a car repairman. I thought I would give myself the very last chance, quit my job and invested three years into what I wanted to do - music," he said.

Jang started learning and playing taepyeongso, a traditional Korean wind instrument, which led him to be featured in "Hayeoga," one of the most famous scores by legendary singer Seo Tai-ji in 1992. Then monk-turned-pianist Lim Dong-chang recommended that he sing for life after listening to his song at a dinner party.

"That's a long way!" he laughed.

Jang is now building a reputation among people outside Korea. He has been holding concerts for foreign diplomats in Seoul and has toured the U.S., Canada, Russia, Iran, Japan and others. The shows were mainly for Koreans living abroad but his charms soon captured the hearts of foreigners, who hardly understand his words.

"A couple of years ago Jang had a brief showcase for the U.S. media in New York, and sang a requiem of pallbearers. After he sang, a journalist told me, 'I don't know a word he sang but I understand what he is singing is the best in the world,'" said Jeong Jae-yeol, a professor at Mokwon University and Jang's musical companion.

"Jang has an incredible stage presence. When he takes to the stage, he has a rapport with his audience which is at once personal and captivating and the audience cannot take their eyes off of him. His passion, and his joy, is infectious, and there is a sense of artistic integrity which I can scarcely describe," said Denny Christianson, director of the music program at Humber School of Creative and Performing Arts in Toronto, Canada.

"His voice and his music truly transcend borders, and tell more about the Korean culture than anything I could possibly imagine," he added.

Jang said he wants to communicate with the world through music. "You don't really need many things. It's all about the truthful heart," he said, smiling and tapping his chest.

Pix: 20121109-003