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[Herald Interview] Snarky Puppy gears up for first concert in Korea

Led by Grammy Award-winning musician and composer Michael League, fusion instrumental band Snarky Puppy is holding its first concert in Korea on Tuesday night at the Blue Square theater in Hannam-dong, Seoul.

The large-scale band was started by League more than 10 years ago while he was attending jazz school at the University of North Texas. Gathering together nine of his pals, the band was initially launched as an opportunity for the budding composer to play out the jazzy hybrid funk music that he had been writing.

“I think there are a lot of elements in our music that fall in line with the jazz tradition, but I’m always a bit hesitant to call it jazz,” League said in an email interview with The Korea Herald. 
Snarky Puppy. (Geni Contents)
Snarky Puppy. (Geni Contents)

“I just call it instrumental music, because that’s really the only thing that’s consistent about it. We pull a lot of influence from popular and folkloric music of Brazil, Mali, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other places from around the world. But really, we play American music. Funk, soul, gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, the blues ... these are the main ingredients of what we do.”

Now more than a decade later, the band that played its first gig in the basement of a pizza shop has performed alongside internationally renowned artists such as Justin Timberlake, Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg and others. At times Snarky Puppy can feature up to 40 musicians, factoring into the band’s distinguished musical sound.

“I think that the individual personalities of our band members contribute to the overall sound in a big way,” said League. “Each person influences the music by expressing themselves in their own way, and that influence stays with us even when they aren’t there.”

“Everything we do with other artists stems from the vibe that we have established over 10 years of playing our own music. There’s so much freedom within the music for us to explore, and it’s allowed us to gel in a unique way,” he added.

For Snarky Puppy’s first performance in Korea, the band leader said he is especially excited about the upcoming solo concert because the group’s keyboardist, Lee Ji-Young, is originally from Seoul.

“So it’s really interesting to finally come to Korea for the first time to play when one of our original members came from there,” he explained. “I actually grew up in a neighborhood in Virginia with a huge Korean population, so I was eating bulgogi, kimchi and bibimbap ever since I was a child ― I’m excited to experience the real thing!”

Besides his longing to experience authentic Korean culture for the first time, League said local fans can expect Snarky Puppy’s upcoming show to feature both a mix of songs from the group’s past albums as well as a special emphasis on its newest album, “We Like It Here.” The album was released in February and debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes Jazz Chart.

“One thing that is consistent in all of our shows is that we never play a song the same way twice, so every night is a unique experience for us as well as the crowd,” he says.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)
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