Gwangju World Music Festival (published in Gwangju News Aug 11)

(Gwangju News Aug 2011)

The Gwangju Music World Festival (GWMF) will be returning for its second year this August. From the 26th to the 28th residents of Gwangju will be able to visit one of several locations around the city and listen to some fascinating music from the four corners of the globe. The event, which is being funded by the Korean government is in an attempt to booster the interest in World Music in Korea. Du-yong Jung, one of the main organisers behind GWMF, says that “[Gwangju Festival is] to teach people about differences of music and dance.”
Between thirty and forty acts are set to appear from over fifteen countries and the organisers hope to emulate the turnout of last year’s festival by topping the twenty-thousand mark. As well as the ‘World Music’ there will be a number musical workshops standing by to enlighten those who know little about this alternative scene.
In preparation for this occasion the organisers had put together a small teaser turnout a few weeks back.
On July 2 in Geumnamno Park, Gwangju, GWMF arranged a “pre-concert in hope of rustling up interest for the main event. So on a sticky hot Saturday evening roughly three to four hundred revellers turned up and packed in to see Cameroonian ‘Erik Aliana & Korongo Jam’ as well as Korean ‘Sunday Klaxons’ perform – the latter seemingly entertaining the crowd the same way a drunk uncle would entertain at a wedding, by waving their arms around and shouting, “whoop, whoop, whoop!”
Both groups are due to play at the main staging in August, with Eric Aliana being a possible festival highlight. On that Saturday evening though he managed the nigh-on impossible; getting a rather sleepy gathering of Koreans out of their chairs and singing about the struggles of Africa. Even the ‘ajumma’ with high waste trousers who had stood motionless throughout was now up dancing like apartheid was only just ending.
Speaking to organiser Mr Du-yong before the show he spoke of how the majority of the Korean music is governed by an “idol” society, but he believes that such festivals as these can really enlighten people and show that there is still other kinds of music out there.
“If people experience world music, like fusion music, such as Korean traditional and pop, [then] people will become more interested.”
World Music will have to try a lot harder to be popular in Korea than in other countries around the world. The pop industry here doesn’t have much time for alternatives in music, they are considered ‘niche’ and not profitable, so therefore the real talent gets moved aside.
With so many K-pop groups saturating the market and deadening the principles of artistry, this festival, which has sort to invite performers from around the world, is really a testament Korea’s efforts of trying to diversify its culture. World music is probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but according to Du-yong giving the people the opportunity to at least give it a listen is paramount to the genre’s ethos.
“We can only consider ‘idol’ music in Korea, only girl and boy groups. We don’t get the chance to experience world music. Our festival is a very good chance to hopefully experience this.”
With so many different musicians taking the stage throughout the three-day event there is sure to be something for everybody’s taste.
According, the official website for the August show, it lists a number of acts that are set to appear.
Playing on the Main-Stage – Chomdan Ssanggam Park, are such artists as Tiempo Libre, a Grammy nominated Cuban band that is based out of Miami, Amazigh Kateb, a North African singer who has become a prominent artist in both the French and Algerian music scene. There are many more groups such as Omara Mactar Bombine, Altan Urag, Regina Carter “Reverse Thread, a classically trained jazz violinist and Nguyen-Le, a Vietnamese Parisian guitarist whose set, along with Ms Carter’s, will see out the closing night on Sunday.
Nguyen-Le, has seen how the ‘pop idol’ mentality can take over a country’s music industry, but he believes that events such as these can help merge pop with more traditional music in the hope to make it perhaps more soulful and passionate.
“I know Jazz and World music are new and small in Asian countries. I can compare [the music scene] with Vietnam from where I just came back. There is a big market for pop idols too. I was invited to play with local musicians and Tung Duong, a famous young pop singer. The experience came as one of the most exciting and exhilarating of my life and the welcoming in the medias was incredible.”
Whether you know much about traditional Korean music, World Music or you just like being amongst a large crowd on a summer’s evening, it is certainly worth a visit.

For more information check out (it is in English)

Story & interviews by David Holt
For more stories please visit or follow on twitter: #DavidAndrewHolt

Artist Profile: Nguyen-Le
Born in Paris to Vietnamese parents, Nguyen-Le began his life painting and drawing, but at the age of 15 he surprised his parents by becoming a self-taught musician. His main focus was Jazz, but he also sort to fuse his music with other genres from around the world. In 1995 he released “Tales of Viet-Nam,” an album in which he started to integrate a selection of world music elements with ethnic musicians in his music. The album has been occasionally compared with Miles Davis’ – “Kind of Blue.”

Salar de Uyuni (published in Gwangju News)

Andean Flamingos (Phoenicopterus andinus), Lag...

Image via Wikipedia

(published in Gwangju News 04-06-11)

After two minutes of driving there was nothing around. Our driver was hitting 80kph; it could have been double or we could have been stationary; it made no difference. It was the beginning of time, where nothing had existed. The white of the salt was like a blank sheet of paper or an empty canvass. It was breath-taking, out-of-this-world, like God had come down from the heavens and hadn’t started his work yet.

Having awoken early from our warm tents in San Pedro de Atacama, a pint-sized dwelling in the midst of an expansive desert; and the only stop between the Pacific Ocean and the picturesque – Salar de Uyuni.

An hour in the back of an old van we quickly ascended up to 4600m to the border crossing, nothing but a knackered hut with a torn Bolivian flag dangling from the pole above. The air was as thin as paper, everyone was gasping for whatever oxygen they could find. Our group was quickly separated into smaller groups and was assigned a driver that was going to chaperon us for the next few days.

The paved roads of Chile suddenly changed into horrifying tracks in Bolivia with more razor-sharp rocks than you would find on the moon. This did not unhinge our driver. He hit his pace and had no intention of slowing down. It was a 4×4 with one soul in the passenger seat, three in the middle and two more squeezed tightly into the back with all the food and equipment. For the first hour the jeep bounced around violently like a broken washing machine.

Our first stop at the height of 4,300m was the sumptuous Laguna Verde. This jade lagoon with mountains the colour of caramel and a sky of sapphire made the bumpy ride worthwhile. On the edge of the waters were a number of flamingos idly poking at its edge. Then on to the Laguna Colorada – a red lagoon, inundated with a thousand more brightly coloured flamingos. Their rosé feathers, their long slim necks and slow delicate sauntering across shallows make them arguably one of the most elegant creatures in the world. Time stood still whilst gazing at these stupendous creatures.

A quick stop for lunch, then onto to Sol de Manana. These large volcanic geysers boiled at exceedingly high temperatures shooting huge plumes of mud and water into the air. Watching them gurgle was like staring a roaring fire – it was hypnotic.

Throughout the day our small group was beginning to fill the nauseated affects of altitude sickness. To this our driver pulled out a small bag of green leaves. He told us this was the ‘only’ cure. He handed to each of us a small measure of coca leaves, the base form of cocaine, which grew prevalently in the area.

‘Masticate on this,’ he said, ‘and it will wake you up…’

We all continued to get worse!

The following day we’d continue our journey past more stunning lagoons and treacherous terrain. The highlight would be spending the night in a hotel made entirely of salt.

It was difficult to see how anything could survive in this climate; to our surprise we saw a small herd of llamas as if appearing from a mirage. They came forward and became so comfortable in our presence that to get close was of no concern; truly remarkable beasts.

Another rough afternoon in the jeep, our driver told us we were now entering the edge of the Salar. Immediately the horizon looked a billion miles away. The curve of the Earth could be seen as it twisted into oblivion. We were on the edge of the world, an eternal abyss.

Our hotel – Hotel de Sal was completely made of salt, from the tables and chairs to the doors and windows. After a hearty breakfast we loaded up the van and set off for the centre of the flats.

We flew across this white desert into nothingness. The smooth calm surface rolled under our tyres and in every direction there was nothing. We remained quiet; we were soaking up this spectacle.

Isla de los Pescados in the centre is home to thousands of giant cacti, the only vegetation around. These ginormous statues, some at least 1000years-old towered over as you make your way to the summit. At the top is arguably one of the most phenomenal panoramic views on Earth and in front lies before you over 12,000sqkm of nothing but pure sodium chloride!