Telling Korean tales, with Irish sound
By Kwaak Je-yup
Kim Jung-hwan and Park Hye-ri could not say exactly when they were first drawn to Irish folk music but once they experienced it firsthand, they could not live without it.
“Every town had a pub,” Park told The Korea Times in a recent interview, recalling her first trip to Ireland in 2006. “Every night, there was music in them. At a festival comparable to the Jeonju International Sori Festival, everyone came with their instruments, people with full-time jobs. It was a real culture shock... I saw music being enjoyed and shared as a group, with an old man on the banjo, his son on the guitar and grandson on the violin. The purity of their music struck me. A taxi driver told me he was a fiddler. A janitor came to me with a violin tucked under his chin. There was no boundary between life and music.”
Kim and Park now make music together within their band Bard, whose name refers to the Gaelic term for a professional poet in the medieval ages. The genre: Irish folk, obviously. Their instruments include an accordion, an acoustic guitar, a violin and even an Irish whistle. Their second album, titled “Road to Road,” hit stores in May.
After her first trip to Ireland, Park came back to Seoul and formed a three-man project band, where she first met Kim. He first set foot on the Emerald Isle the following year, accompanying his band mates and experiencing a similar culture shock.
In 2010, they released their first record as Bard, a completely instrumental album. But they were not satisfied.
“Some people were saying that Koreans playing Irish music just didn’t feel right,” said Kim. There was something missing.”
“This new album is different: we made these songs with our own vernacular,” said Park. “We wanted to express the Irishness with a language within our own skin.”
“Now, we look back at our first record, and we see why things were a little awkward last time, a bit incomplete,” said Kim. “This time, there’s more of us that has seeped inside.”
“I actually don’t think it was incomplete,” said Park. “Some accuse us of copying someone else’s music... but the Irish often ask us, ‘Where does this music come from?’”
The commonality of the music’s roots is focused on the unprocessed sounds and emotions, they said. They seem to ignore the persistent questions about why they pursue another culture’s sound and leave themselves free to roam within the genre.
“Speaking for myself, I don’t think of a specific Bard way or a Bard style,” said Kim, who also works with other bands as well as by himself, for movie soundtracks. “I could write about a new girl who moved into the neighborhood and about how pretty she looked. I just follow my instincts.”
“I look at small, even trivial things, that can still make a lasting impression on us,” said Park. “Looking at the album now, I seem to have dwelled a lot on the need to live together as a community. I don’t want to put it all grand like a message against capitalism or anything, though.”
Staying true to the Irish music culture, last year they toured around Korea’s pubs, hosting a handful of people at each venue, with a pint in hand. They have also been invited by festivals in Austria and their music’s homeland.
“Irish music is to be shared among people,” said Park. “Music comes directly into our lives as inseparable entities. That’s what makes it so fun. One thing that struck me the most is how instruments play the melody in unison. It’s not the kind of music to be watched or listened to. It’s to be sung together, played together and enjoyed together.”
Bard plays at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Prism Hall in Hongdae, the Hongik University area in western Seoul as a part of the Sound Rush concert series. Bossa nova singer Na Hee-kyung and bandoneon (small concertina) player Ko Sang-ji, will also perform.