The Gugak Orchestra brought traditional Korean music on one friendly stage with Bollywood.

For those of us popular culture babies for whom the only correlation to Korean music is K-pop musician Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, the musical extravaganza offered by the Gugak Orchestra in New Delhi recently coloured our musical palettes in myriad hues. Celebrating 40 years of India-Korea diplomatic relations, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Korea enthralled their audience with a repertoire rich in traditional elements accompanied by what is familiar musical vocabulary for an Indian audience. Alongside the rendition of “Arirang”, a popular Korean folk song, Pansori, a genre in which a sorikkun (singer) gives a vocal performance standing, and a modern fusion of shamanic and folk music was a section of popular Bollywood tunes.

In an interview on the sidelines of the event, Kong Wooyoung, Art Director of the Gugak Orchestra, affiliated to the National Gugak Centre, responded to questions about combining the traditional with the contemporary, music as a means to strengthen diplomatic ties between India and South Korea and the melody of the Indian national anthem. Edited excerpts:

What is the history of this tradition?

The type of orchestra style that the National Music Centre performs was brought in only in the 1950s-60s. Before this period the character of Korean music was more spontaneous. The Music Center upholds the ideal of preserving the traditional while also maintaining your appeal for the next generation. Samullori is a genre of percussion music that has its roots in folk community singing but is moulded, in their compositions, for stage performance.

How was the experience of playing Indian tunes on Korean instruments?

We asked the Indian Culture Centre to recommend some songs. We usually choose folk songs, but this time we wanted to play popular music which in India happens to be Bollywood songs. It was challenging to play Indian songs, as the trembling notes are difficult to achieve with the instruments we use. To understand the songs better, we watched the movie to understand the emotional nuances of the song instead of going by a mere literal translation.

What is the role of music in bringing India and Korea together in a diplomatic friendship?

Aristotle in “The Republic” stated that music has the power to form character. The Gugak orchestra plays with that belief of the transformative power of music. Music can transform people and their beliefs. It has the quality of moulding people’s minds to believe in peace, to positively influence interactions between people, to build bridges, form friendships.

What are your expectations and experiences of performing in India?

We chose to perform in New Delhi as it is the capital city. Mumbai is the centre of culture and commerce in India, and in Chennai many Korean companies have set up their plants. The music helps us understand each other, brings us closer with our similarities.