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Hallyu is more than K-pop
Korean jazz artists gaining global attention
By Chung Ah-young
Jazz is not a style of music for everyone’s taste and seldom sees commercial success — at least in Korea where K-pop is dominating the music industry.
Under this mercantile environment unfavorable to diverse musical genres here, some jazz musicians are turning their eyes to overseas fans, making a splash in the international jazz scene. Jazz songstress Nah Youn-sun and duo Winterplay are solidifying their strong fan bases around the world.
Nah’s music has been well recognized in Europe, particularly in France and Germany, rather than in her own country. But after singing “Arirang,” a Korean folk song, in a television advertisement and at the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye earlier this year, she has left a strong impression on the Korean audience.
Her latest and eighth album “Lento” topped the German and French jazz charts after its release on March 17, receiving rave reviews from critics there.
After holding performances more than 100 times in 17 countries since “Lento” was launched in March, she will give a concert at the National Theater of Korea on Dec. 21, 22, 24 and 25. “She will be the first jazz artist to hold a concert here for four days after the theater opened,” a theater official said.
She made her debut in the musical “Line 1” produced by Kim Min-gi in 1994. But she later went to Paris to study jazz and chanson. In 2001, she released her debut album “Reflet.” Since then, she has become the first Korean musician who is highly acclaimed in the European jazz circle.
French newspaper Le Monde described Nah as “a UFO touching the universe of jazz with a magnificent voice and passionate originality; Jubilation in triple time.”
Her seventh album “Same Girl” was the top-selling jazz album of 2011 in France, hitting No. 1 on the jazz charts, staying among the top 10 for 70 consecutive weeks. “Same Girl,” which was released under ACT, Germany’s prestigious jazz label, won the Golden Disc Awards in France in 2010.
She was also named Jazz Artist of the Year at the Echo Awards in Germany and Best Vocalist at the Edison Awards in the Netherlands in 2011. The German “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” describes Nah as “the most interesting voice of today’s jazz world” and the weekly magazine “Stern” describes her work as “pure, magical music beyond all categories.”
Despite her high profile in European countries, her popularity is comparatively small in Korea because jazz is not a well-recieved musical genre. But her jazzy interpretation of “Arirang” is inviting more popularity here.
She was appointed Korea’s goodwill ambassador for UNESCO’s International Jazz Day which falls on April 30 and also a promotional ambassador for Arirang of Gangwon Province on April 11.
Winterplay, the jazz duo comprising of vocalist Haewon and trumpeter and producer Lee Ju-han, recently released its third album “Two Fabulous Fools” in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.
Since its first footing in Japan in 2008, the group topped major jazz charts including iTunes and gave a live performance as the first Asian artists in Billboard Live in Japan.
In 2011, its first album “Sunshines” released in Hong Kong shot to the top spot in major charts including HMV and won the Golden Disc of that year.
LoudPigs, its agency, said that the newest album will be a stepping stone for the group to boost its overseas activities.
Its music video “Yoboseyo Baby” has already been creating a buzz among Asian jazz fans.
Winterplay made its debut in 2008, releasing the album “Choco Snowball.”
The band brought immediate sensation in the Korean music scene for its modern creations by combining pop and jazz. The group recently signed a contract with Universal Classics & Jazz Japan for worldwide distribution and released the album “Songs of Colored Love” in Japan in 2009.
Winterplay is also planning to release the album in other European countries after it was launched in the United Kingdom in 2010 which was its first album in a Western country. Clive Davis, a music critic for The Sunday Times in the U.K., praised its international album “Songs of Colored Love,” saying that it “showed innovative music that demolished separation between jazz, pop and lounge music.”
The duo will hold the performance “STL Floating Concert Vol. 1” which will take place on a cruiser on the Han River on Nov. 23. This is the second in its series of “moving live” gigs after its concert on a double-decker bus in July.