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Singing from one genre to another

Indie music helps Lee Ja-ram create new form of pansori

Pansori prodigy and indie musician Lee Ja-ram is to hold a pansori gala show, staging highlights of Korea’s four representative traditional pansori and her own contemporary pansori creations in Seoul on Sept. 16.

Pansori is a traditional form of narrative music, performed by a solo singer, who plays all the characters of a story, and a “gosu,” who provides rhythms on a barrel drum and “chuimsae,” or improvised short verbal sounds.

Lee, 32, is a rare young Korean pansori singer whose shows are booked in Europe until 2013. She was listed in the Guinness World Records in 1999 by singing the entire “Chunhyangga” for eight straight hours when she was 19. It was the longest ever pansori recital and she was the youngest to achieve such feat.
Pansori singer and indie band musician Lee Ja-ram speaks during an interview in Seoul on Thursday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Pansori singer and indie band musician Lee Ja-ram speaks during an interview in Seoul on Thursday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Two contemporary pansori works, “Sacheonga” in 2007 and “Ukchukga” in 2011,” gave her two rewards ― popularity with sold-out tickets and good reviews from traditional Korean music critics.

The upcoming show is especially significant in that the audiences can see highlights of the representative four traditional pansori performances at one show, which will be presented by 21st-century pansori singer, who also produces contemporary pansori, Lee said.

“Koreans do not really know what pansori is like and how valuable it is. Although I have fame and skills in singing in other musical genre, I want to restore the value of traditional pansori works,” Lee said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“These days, we are too accustomed to fancy stages with many visual effects and sounds. But I’m sure the audience will be very happy on the concert day because they will find the pansori’s charm by participating in the show together,” she said.

At the Olympic Park’s semi-outdoor ‘88 Lake Waterside Stage, the singer will showcase highlights of four traditional pansori ― “Simcheongga,” “Chunhyangga,” “Sugungga” and “Jeokbyeokga.”

“Simcheongga” is a story about girl Simcheong and her father Sim Bongsa (Sim the Blind); “Chunhyangga,” a love story between Chunhyang, the daughter of a female entertainer, or gisaeng, and Yi Mong-ryong, the son of a magistrate; “Sugungga,” a story of the Dragon King of the Southern Sea, a terrapin, and a wily rabbit; and “Jeokbyeokga,” a retold story of the Chinese historical legend of the Battle of Red Cliffs.

Lee advised foreign audiences get a brief idea of the basic storylines of the four pansori works before they come to the show, as English subtitles will not be available.

The highlight of her 2007 work “Sacheonga,” for which she received the Best Actress Award at the International Theater Festival Kontakt in Poland in 2010, will wrap up the gala show.

“Pansori is the highest quality performance where quality singing skill meets drama. Because the audience is one of the components for a show, pansori cannot be fully enjoyed by listening to a CD,” Lee said.

“The singer, the percussionist and the audience can make a perfect harmony. If there is no such harmony, that show is a failure.”

Lee is a versatile artist.

After graduating from the Seoul National University as a gugak major and SNU’s graduate school where she studied music, Lee formed a folk rock group Amado (Probably) Lee Ja-ram Band, a band in which guitarist Lee Min-ki of Chang Kiha & The Faces also plays. Amado Lee Ja-ram Band released a four-track album “Sad Song” in 2009.

In 2010, she also played a lead role in musical “Seopyeonje,” which won five awards including Best Home-grown Musical and Best Female Actress at the at the fifth Musical Awards in Seoul in June.

“I do music in an indie band because it is fun. If my indie band activities were to interfere with my focus on pansori music, it would be a big problem. But rather, indie music helps me become more creative when I write pansori scripts,” Lee said.

Lee Ja-ram’s pansori gala show “Her Music, Her Pansori” will be held at the Olympic Park ‘88 Lake Waterside Stage on Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost 55,000 won and can be purchased at For more information, call (02) 563-0595.

By Kim Yoon-mi (