Insooni, guitarist break barriers between pop, classic

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 21, 2012 - 19:12
  • Updated : Mar 22, 2012 - 16:09

K-pop diva, classic guitarist resonate with music of Piazzolla, bizet and their own

Korean diva Insooni and classical guitarist Denis Sungho Janssens challenge both themselves and their fans by exploring a broad musical spectrum and also by breaking boundaries between pop and classical music. 

Guitarist Denis Sungho Janssens (left) and singer Insooni perform Kim Kwang-seok’s song “Around 30” at a studio in Dogok-dong, southern Seoul, on Tuesday. Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald

With the concert entitled “My … Daehwa (Conversation),” the artists from Korea and Belgium will try to tell their own story ― despite cultural differences and language barriers ― through music.

“I was overwhelmed by Denis’ performance at the Seoul Arts Center last year. I loved the way he mesmerizes the audience with just one guitar. It was amazing,” Insooni told The Korea Herald on Tuesday at a studio in southern Seoul.

“I always wanted to do something new. For some of my fans, this collaboration could be a disappointment but this is also part of my music,” the diva said.

Like the unique and breathtaking collaboration between Sting and Edin Karamazov on Elizabethan lute music, the versatile Korean vocalist turns to the world of classic music with Janssens playing a tango opera, “Maria de Buenos Aires,” by Piazzolla and a classic Bizet opera, “Habanera.” Her title songs like “Father,” “Dream of a Goose” and “Hypnosis” are rearranged for the performance, offering the audience a chance to discover the diva’s voice less loud but more profound. Janssens also plays his solo pieces including “Korean Mountain,” his own composition in tribute to Korean film “Strokes of Fire (2001).” Clarice Assad, composer in residence at Carnegie hall famous for her works with world-class artists including Yo-Yo Ma and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, arranged and composed music for the two.
Guitarist Denis Sungho Janssens (left) and singer Insooni perform Kim Kwang-seok’s song “Around 30” at a studio in Dogok-dong, southern Seoul, on Tuesday. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

“I really wanted to make some high-level crossover. I think Insooni is the only one who could make that happen,” Janssens said.

“In classical music, we learn technical things and harmony. But for a certain level we (get to) learn instinct. I learned from Insooni the beauty of instinct. She’s a musician with wonderful instinct,” the guitarist said.

The two will give seven concerts in Korea starting March 30 at Pohang Art Center in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, at Gwangju Art Center on April 20, Incheon Art Center on April 17 and at Daegu Art Center on May 1. The tour continues on May 2 at Ulsan Art Center in South Gyeongsang Province, at LG Arts Center in Seoul on May 30 and at Busan Art Center on June 7.

Insooni and Janssens said they want to show appreciation for life they have through music, stepping toward a bright future by leaving regrets and bad memories behind.

“It is about the life of anybody. We are just a simple human. We are born, we grow, up we get old and we die. It is so simple but also beautiful. I think whatever their stories are, there is always the beauty of hopes,” the guitarist said.

Janssens, who prefers to use his stage name Denis Sungho, a mix of his given names in Korean and French, is a Korean-Belgian raised by Belgian parents. Janssens is the only guitarist in the world to have performed at both the European Concert Hall Organization and Carnegie Hall in New York. At the age of 14, he won the first prize at the Belgian Music Contest for Young Artists. Denis Sungho studied with Odair Assad, a renowned classical guitarist from Brazil who is better known as one of the “Assad Brothers,” along with his brother Sergio Assad.

Insooni said she expects the concert to be a turning point for her music career, a chance to show more of her inner-self. As she grows older, she wants to keep the balance between having an extreme makeover and remaining a true artist.

“There were times when things did not go as well as I had imagined when people did not pay attention to me even though I tried so hard. The entertainment business is all about how to surprise the audience,” she said.

Laughing at her tearful experience of wearing shorts on stage, she said she had never stopped reinventing herself as a TV entertainer.

“Whenever I felt like going backward, I tried new, trendy music, make-up or fashion to survive in the show business. But it is very hard for one to move somebody’s mind,” the 55-year-old singer said.

Born in 1957 to a Korean mother and an African-American father who served in the U.S. military in Korea, Insooni was brought up by her mother alone in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province.

She made her debut in 1978 in a group called “Hee Sisters,” and has released 19 albums since. Insooni is also known for her successful collaborations with a younger generation of musicians, including Park Jin-young and Cho PD.

Her 2007 hit single, “Dream of a Goose,” was a remake of Kim Dong-ryul and Lee Juck’s 1997 ballad of the same name. Filled with Lee Juck’s poetic and reflective lyrics, the song, which symbolized youth and their dreams in the late ‘90s, once again attracted people of different ages when expressed in Insooni’s signature hearty voice in 2007.

The diva showed off her musical talent by appearing on MBC TV’s “I Am a Singer” (better known as “Nagasu”), holding a nation-wide solo concert tour and taking a title role in the musical “Cats.”

Except for LG Arts Center in Seoul, the concert will be held at small- and medium-sized halls, as the singer and the guitarist wanted to maximize interaction with the audience.

“I wonder what we can talk about on the stage, because Janssens looks like a perfect Korean but doesn’t speak Korean and I look foreign but I don’t speak a word of English. But we will be able to tell our stories in music,” Insooni said.

“We are quite an interesting combination.”

Tickets range from 50,000 won to 200,000 won.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)