Joy of Nongak is all in the playing

By Lee Hyun-jeong

Expats discover beauty of Korean farmers’ music on TV

  • Published : Nov 27, 2014 - 21:06
  • Updated : Nov 27, 2014 - 21:07

Having lived in Korea for more than a decade now, Sam Hammington has had several encounters with nongak, traditional music performed by farmers.

For a long time, he held on to his first impressions of the music.

“My impressions were like ... What kind of music is that? It’s too loud,” said the Australian, who is one of the most popular TV personalities in Korea.

Then a three-day trip to Pilbong, a small agricultural town in South Jeolla Province, where the cultural heritage of preindustrial Korea is well preserved, opened his ears to the musical world of nongak. 
Scenes from a reality TV show to be aired on Nov. 28. The show follows six novices as they get the chance to learn nongak, Korean farmers’ band music. (Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation)

“Now (that I’ve learnt how to play it,) nongak feels completely different,” he said, explaining how the farmers’ music intrigues him. “It really is a great fun and a great stress reliever. Whatever concern you have in mind, that moment you pick up your nongak instrument and start playing, it’s gone,” he added.

Hammington spoke at a press conference for a TV show which will be aired on the local channel KBS on Nov. 28. Joined by five other cast members of the show, he performed in front of the press.

The reality show follows six people with diverse cultural and professional backgrounds for three days as they learn from scratch how to pull off a nongak performance as a team.

It is part of a bigger effort by the state-run Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation to enhance the public interest in nongak, as the folk music is expected to win recognition from UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

UNESCO representatives, meeting in Paris, were scheduled to vote later on Thursday on inscribing nongak on the list of such heritages.

“Many of us, Koreans, may be unfamiliar with nongak. That’s why I wanted to have a culturally diverse cast in order to introduce nongak from a fresh, first-timer’s perspective,” said Kim Han-tae, the show’s producer.

For Sarah Banim, who’s from France, the beauty of nongak is in that it’s a community music.

“Nongak is something that you have to work together with others and share with others. That was, for me, the most attractive and the most challenging part,” she said. On the show, she played the buk, a traditional Korean drum, along with Hammington.

Korean singer Son Jin-young said the cast members all got so immersed in nongak that they wanted to find a way to continue playing.

“This isn’t going to be a one-time event. We’re planning to continue. Who knows? We (might) make the nation’s first TV-personality nongak troupe.”

The show’s other cast members are Jung Song-hee, a traditional Korean dancer, Marco Fla Ferrara from Italy and rapper Kang Jin-pil, aka P-TYPE.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)