JANG SA-IK, the Voice of Korea, to Headline NY City Center on April 18th
Asian Superstar’s Video to Debut April 10 on LinkTV
Only Mainland Appearance for South Korea’s Musical Poet
Watch Jang Sa-ik perform “Arirang” on YouTube
Jang Sa-ik is a superstar in his native South Korea, adored by millions in his homeland and abroad. Now, World Music Institute (WMI) is proud to present this Asian music phenomenon in concert, on Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 8 p.m. at NY City Center. The show, which features his 9-piece ensemble with 6 backing vocalists, marks the only mainland U.S. appearance for this cultural sensation. He will also perform April 25 in Honolulu at the Mu-Ryang-Sa Korean Buddhist Temple. LinkTV will debut his video “The Way to Heaven” nationally on April 10th.
During the past decade, Jang Sa-ik—the winner of multiple Korean music awards—has put a new perspective on the disappearing traditions of Korean folk music. His six hit albums, filled with polished, powerful songs and moving poetry, have sold millions of copies, and he has routinely performed for sold-out audiences, reinforcing his reputation as the soul of the modern Korean people and redefining contemporary Korean music.
Jang’s journey is a remarkable tale in itself. His farmer father doubled as his village’s best-known amateur changgo (double-headed hourglass drum) player, and the young Jang Sa-ik, who was born in 1949, became fascinated with the wind instrument taepyōngso (double-reed Korean oboe). While taking on numerous unfulfilling jobs in his early adult years, Jang played Korean traditional music and also practiced his singing. But even as he studied the tanso (vertical bamboo piccolo) and taegūm (horizontal bamboo flute), he still had no thoughts of becoming a professional musician or singer.
It wasn’t until his mid-forties, in fact, that Jang decided to make a career change and become a professional taepyōngso player, intensely studying the instrument for three years. He joined several professional nongakpae (farmer bands), and it wasn’t long before his colleagues also noticed his great vocal skills and persuaded him to sing in concert. In 1994, Jang’s first concert as a vocalist, Road to Heaven, took place in collaboration with pianist Im Dong-chang at a small experimental theater. Jang became an instant hit by combining Korean traditional music with contemporary popular music. In 1995, at the age of 46, he released his first CD, also titled Road to Heaven.
Jang Sa-ik’s popularity quickly rose alongside that of emerging hip-pop and R&B singers who created a new star system in Korea. Focused primarily on the younger generation, this pop culture phenomenon monopolized the entertainment industry but left behind middle-aged and older music fans. But Jang Sa-ik bucked that trend, his powerful, poignant voice grabbing the attention of both young and old alike, connecting them via his new Korean “roots” music and poetry.
Central to Jang’s appeal is his ability to portray in his music han, the harsh yet humble lives of the Korean people. His message is aimed at all Koreans, especially those in the United States—his sound and lyrics help them to remember their land and traditions, their hometowns, parents, childhood, and the pastoral country life left behind. His song “Sikoljang” (Country Market), for example, is based on a poem written by the Korean-American poet Kim Hyung-su. It speaks of a place where all of the villagers would gather to shop, and serves as a metaphor for the shared longing of his people to remain connected.
Musically, Jang Sa-ik draws from a wide range of international sources to concoct his universally appealing sound. He is inspired by influences running the gamut from Japanese-influenced sinminyo (newly composed folk songs) to post-war American folk, spirituals, R&B, blues and jazz, to yuhaengkayo, the mainstream Korean popular songs of the ’70s and ’80s. He counts “American G.I.” music of the ‘60s (Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin) as some of his earliest Western influences. Jang simply says, “My songs are simply expressions of my life, my thoughts and my love,” but his fans have come to see his music as a portrait of those who have experienced the turmoil of the modern Korean people: their shared pain, love and joy.
Above all else is the voice itself: With its powerful sonic qualities and finely honed technique, and a delivery filled with pathos, Jang Sa-ik’s rich, emotive singing has often been compared to that of a traditionally trained pansori singer (Korean traditional solo folk-opera singer). The beauty of the pansori voice comes from its strong tones, oversized volume and wide vocal range. Jang’s nuanced singing projects both a smoothness and a lived-in quality that feels honest and real to his devoted following.
Korean tradition holds that singers should practice near a waterfall to strengthen the voice until it can be heard above the sound of the falling water. Jang Sa-ik’s enormous range enables him to create a broad spectrum of vocal timbres that depict many aspects of life and nature and, most importantly, a powerful range of deep emotional expression. As he says, “This is the only way to touch the souls of the people, singing with a full heart.”
Now, Jang’s larger-than-life abilities are beginning to be appreciated outside of the mainstream Korean community. As one New York reviewer said following a recent Jang Sa-ik promotional appearance in New York, “Jang Sa-ik explained that due to jet lag (thirty hours, door to door from another time zone), he was only singing at thirty percent. If what he delivered was less than a third of what he’s capable of, a full-strength show would defy the laws of physics.”
Sa-ik’s first five recordings have been collected in a boxed set titled Longing. His most recent recording Jang Sa-ik Volume 6 features the artist’s calligraphy along with his music and poetry.
JANG SA-IK Saturday April 18th 7:30pm
NY City Center - 55th Street betw 6th & 7th Avenue, NYC
Ticket info: www.worldmusicinstitute.org (tickets not available at box office)