숨: To Breathe, to Sigh (Girls, Gayageums & Glastonbury)

sumBy Giacomo Lee. Read the dark side to Seoul city in his novel Funereal, out now on Amazon UK & US.

A little hangul lesson is one of the many treats in a recent feature on Korean groups 숨[su:m] and Jambinai (잠비나이), as published in leading world music magazine fRoots this month. Read some exclusive excerpts from the feature below, with permission from the one and only Christopher Conder:

‘Breath’ is a key word for [su:m]. It is the translation of the word 숨(pronounced ‘soom’) and to the group it is a means to music: ‘Sometimes a soft sigh, sometimes a gasp, and sometimes a silent hold of breath’ (to quote from the sleeve notes to their album). Many of their instrumental duets are intricate, considered, with space to breathe, a reaction to what I can only imagine is a frantic pace of life in their home town of Seoul.

“Every people – our mother, our grandmother – can sing a folk song,” says Park Jiha of the duo. “Sometimes there is only a song and sometimes there is a kind of instrument. For example, in Korea still they do a ritual and they play piri 피리 and gayageum 가야금.”

Jambinai meanwhile are most often categorised as ‘post-rock’, putting them in a genre alongside the likes of Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky. Amidst the waves of shredded electric guitar remain the traditional Korean instruments: geomungo 거문고, piri and haegum (해금a form of violin held vertically). One of the pleasures of Womex is the way it facilitates the most unlikely cultural encounters, and one of my enduring memories is of a huge black man in African garb in absolute raptures over the intense music of these small, neat Oriental musicians.

Read more in the May 2014 issue of fRoots, out now, and catch its photos of the suːm girls & their gayageums on the official 숨[suːm] Facebook page. Christopher Conder’s page also has info on the news that Jambinai are playing at Glastonbury Festival this year. Hallyu on the Glasto lineup? Wow! Check out music from both bands below:

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