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Serengeti’s session power shines with 3rd album

Trio of session musicians wishes to leave band’s musical trace in people’s memory; eyes Europe

While idol-centered K-pop has been heavily covered by the media, the Korean indie scene has received relatively little attention. This is the fourth installment of a series of interviews shedding light on the scene. ― Ed.

Although trio indie band Serengeti is not a household name, each member’s versatility as a session musician has long been proven among professional musicians and industry officials.

Yu Jeong-gyun, vocalist, bassist and the band leader, has been playing the bass for Onnine Ibalgwan (Sister’s Barbershop) on their studio albums for the past eight years and currently is a bassist for J.K. Kim Dong-wook’s jazz band Zebra.

Jang Dong-jin, has been playing drums for Big Bang’s studio albums, and performed at the idol group member Taeyang’s solo concert in September last year.

Chung Soo-wan, guitarist, has been working with singer Lee So-ra for her annual concerts for the past four years and is now a session guitarist for MBC’s program “I Am a Singer.”

“Although I have been a session musician for a long time, I was thirsty to create my own music in 2003. At that time, those two guys were really known as masters in Hongdae scene so I approached them and suggested we form a band,” said Yu, 31, who writes most of Serengeti’s songs.

“Although the band was formed in 2003, we thought we needed a unique color. For four years, we agonized over what kind of music style we should pursue,” Yu said.

The difficult four years went by and they finally debuted in 2008 with first album, “Afro Afro.”
Indie band Serengeti members pose for a photograph before an interview in Seoul on Thursday: (From left) Yu Jeong-gyun on vocals and bass, Jang Dong-jin on drums and Chung Soo-wan on guitar. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Indie band Serengeti members pose for a photograph before an interview in Seoul on Thursday: (From left) Yu Jeong-gyun on vocals and bass, Jang Dong-jin on drums and Chung Soo-wan on guitar. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

The band defines its identity as “Afro soul funk band,” as all three members found the root of their favorite music in African music.

“We integrate African traditional music with modern soul and funk. I think it is quite unique,” Yu said.

The band has no keyboardist, which could limit the scope of diverse musical styles they can try.

However, the members were confident that the trio music can be still powerful.

“There are of course musicians who are making Afro music more pop-like, but the trio is enough to make the basics of our music,” Chung, 27, said.

During the first year after their debut album, the band rarely skipped a day without a performance. From clubs to festivals to solo concerts to concert projects, the band did a show almost every day to make their names known to the public.

After the 2009 second album “Oasis” and numerous performances since, they released a third album, “Colors of Love” on June 21.

“The theme of the third album is love, which made the tracks quite bright and light. We tried to show diverse emotions in love,” Yu said.

The album starts with the first track, “Free Hug,” a jolly acoustic guitar and light beat-based song filled with optimistic lyrics about anticipating love.

The second track “Geudaedo Nal,” (loosely translated as “Can You Also Love Me”), is currently the most popular track, featuring nine-member brass band Kingston Rudieska on funky beats.

“This album can be recommended as summer vacation music. When it rains a lot in summer, the song ‘Everything, Like a Dream’ is recommended,” said Chung.

The last track, “Great Migrations,” was originally created for the National Geographic Korea’s four-part documentary “Great Migrations,” Yu said.

Yu, a photographer, said he designed the album cover and the CD sleeve with photos he took with an analog camera.

He’s now holding his personal exhibition at Lomo Korea in Hongdae through July 24 where photos and books can be exchanged for free.

Although each member is busy working with other artists as session musicians, Serengeti hope to do music together for a long time, said drummer Jang, 28.

“Doing music together in a band, without changing any member, is never easy. We can have conflicts as a human being but we will be able to do music together as long as we have trust in music,” Jang said.

Listening to music brings up forgotten memories about certain times in the past and Serengeti hopes to leave some kind of trace in people’s memories, said Chung.

“You take out an old CD and listen to it. Suddenly, all the memories come to you really vividly. We want to be that kind of band,” Chung said.

Serengeti had some tours in Japan and Thailand and hopes to perform in Europe some day, Chung said.

By Kim Yoon-mi (yoonmi@heraldcorp.com)
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