The Korea Herald


1950s 'nongak' band to perform in Seoul

By Kim Hae-yeon

Published : April 20, 2023 - 16:10

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Poster for the Poster for the "Mupung" performance that will take place at the Seoul Namsan Gukakdang on Saturday (Seoul Namsan Gukakdang)

Four members of a traditional female nongak band from the 1950s will team up to bring the community band music to stage at the Seoul Namsan Gukakdang on Saturday.

Inscribed on the UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014, nongak translates as "farmer's music" and is a performing art derived from traditional communal rites and rustic entertainments.

Different regions of the country have their variations, but nongak generally combines a percussion and wind ensemble parading, dancing, acting and performing acrobatics.

In addition to its original purpose -- chasing away evil spirits while praying for a rich harvest -- nongak is also known to help build bonds and communication among members of the community.

The performance titled "Mupung" consists of eight sections that involve a series of traditional dances and gut, rites to bring good spirits through songs, oracles and prayers.

The four members who will lead the stage are those from a nongak band named Yeoseong Nongakdan. The all-female band was formed in Namwon, North Jeolla Province, in 1958.

Roaming around the country as the first female-only nongak troupe, the members quickly gained fame and performed up to three times a day.

"They could be thought of as first-generation girl idol group if you hear about the atmosphere and popularity as related by the members," Kim Yang-oh, a writer who studies local history and culture of the Jeolla provinces, said.

"According to an official archive, some 20 female members were registered in the Nongakdan in 1961."

The nongak band's popularity reached at is peak during the mid-1960s to the 1970s.

However, with the rise of sports entertainment and penetration of television, the band's career came to an indefinite end after the winter of 1979, according to Kim.

(From left) Jang Hong-do, Bae Bun-soon, Park Bok-rae and Noh Young-suk (Seoul Namsan Gukakdang) (From left) Jang Hong-do, Bae Bun-soon, Park Bok-rae and Noh Young-suk (Seoul Namsan Gukakdang)

Some 30 years later, in 2011, the next generation of female nongak musicians formed another female nongak group, naming it the Yeonheuidan Palsandae.

The group tried to continue the legacy of Yeoseong Nongakdan, while also harboring a new ambition to promote nongak to the world.

After their performance at the Yeosu Expo in 2012, they were invited to perform in England. They have also performed in Tokyo and Italy.

In 2014, the band created a series of nongak performances and named it "Mupung."

On Saturday, Yeonheuidan Palsandae will perform under the lead of four veteran members of Yeoseong Nongakdan -- Jang Hong-do, Bae Bun-soon, Park Bok-rae and Noh Young-suk. The oldest member in the group was born in 1932.

The two-hour performance begins at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets cost 30,000 won and can be reserved at online ticketing site Interpark.