Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Akaraka = Cheering and K-pop delights!

Quick disclaimer - most of the photos shown in this post were NOT taken by me because I stupidly forgot to bring my camera to this event! >.<

This pic was taken me before the celebrities arrived  - most of the attendees are wearing blue and white (including me) which are the official colours of Yonsei. 

I should have blogged about this earlier but for some reason I didn't. Anyway two weeks ago was the highlight of every year at Yonsei - Akaraka, a giant music festival-concert that takes place in Yonsei's amphitheater which boasts a fantastic, star-studded concert for those lucky enough to acquire tickets. Fortunately I was able to count myself among the lucky and enjoyed a fantastic show for a fantastic price, but first some explanation. . .

Every year Korean universities have school festivals which are often highlighted by a concert in which a number of selected famous, and I do mean FAMOUS, Korean singers show up and perform a set to a large, screaming audience of students. Sounds pretty awesome right? I wish they had that stuff in Toronto...

This pic is of Tiger JK, Yoon Mi Rae and Bizzy at Akaraka and was stolen from another Yonsei exchange student's blog Life of Jayy which can be found at http://passthejayy.blogspot.com check it out for more pics and another experience!   
Yonsei University, being one of the top schools in the country had an amazing festival week wherein the entire campus was transformed into a giant 'seuljip' or Korean style pub in which student groups and faculties would set up tents and makeshift tables on the university's main road and serve alcohol and food to students and others who just showed up for the festivities. This was all while student led bands, dance groups and clubs played music throughout the day and night! It was awesome! Your's truly was even involved in traditional Korean drumming performance for the festival which I shall talk about later. It was some great stuff.

Anyway, the festival culminated in a concert in Yonsei's amphitheater in which goers, such as myself were treated to performances by Korean hip hop legends Tiger JK, Yoon Mi Rae and Bizzy, a recently made famous ballad singer The One - that's his name, SNSD (a.k.a.: Girl's Generation - the highlight of the evening for many goers), YB - an awesome rock group, and finally JYP the performer, producer of k-pop, and owner the talent company of the same name, who put on an impressive show.

Seo Hyun from Girl's Generation as seen at Akarak - again I didn't take this.
I have to say it was pretty mind-blowing seeing all these famous people for a measly $10, even if getting tickets proved to be a challenge (although I lucked out when my friend broke it to me that she had an extra ticket) especially considering that seeing any one of these performers at a regular concert would cost an upwards of 60-200+ dollars! Definitely lucked out on this one!

The show started with a number of student performances which included two impressive female singers, signing upbeat and soulful songs about love and stuff, a rock group and a number of dance teams.

The celebrity performances themselves where pretty solid and I'll describe them in order as follows...  

Tiger JK, Yoon Mi Rae and Bizzy took the stage first and Tiger rapped a reprise of Good Life, one of his classic tracks from when he was with DJ Shine in Drunken Tiger and in the middle of the track Bizzy rapped his part from the Leesang produced track From River to Ocean which was sick! (I feel like it would not be presumptuous of me to assume that I was one of the few people in the audience who realized where his bit came from) and the ridiculously talented Yoon Mi Rae, fine Rapper, R&B singer, longtime collaborator and now wife of Tiger JK sang her hit Get It In. The three appeared as a trio to promote their new project/group MFBTY which includes all three rappers, which has recently released a single Sweet Dreams which they also sang. Being a Korean hip hop aficionado of sorts this was really the highlight of my evening. It's almost a shame they went first!   

The next up was The One! Korean ballad music is kind of a sub-genre which I have not explored in great detail aside from the odd Brown Eye'd Soul track. Still he sang very well, and even at one point ran into the audience in the VIP section and sang among the crowd. On his third track he collaborated with an up and coming kpop trio which I can't remember the name of (they were yelling in Korean and most the information I can find about Akaraka in English deals mostly with Girls Generation, not surprisingly) but they were really fun. This particular singer garnered fame for singing a number of prominent OST tracks for Korean dramas and the Korean students all seemed to know who he was. His voice was magnificent though, and that's one thing I've always appreciated about ballad singers, they have to be able to sing really well, which is more than I can say for some K-pop stars (not all mind you).

Speaking of K-pop stars, next up was the EXTREMELY famous SNSD (Seonyeo Shidae), better known in the west as Girls Generation. Though admittedly not a huge fan of K-pop it was pretty wild to see them live! They sang 4 songs, two of which were obviously lip-synced much to the chagrin of a few of my friends. I do have to say though that it was kind of on odd choice as they were the only artists that lip-synced that evening. They performed The Boys, I Got a Boy, another song that I can't remember and Gee which is their most famous song EVER as far as I know. As soon as they took the stage everyone started screaming and pushing up. The young Korean guy behind me was literally shaking with excitement and had to sit down to catch his breath after the performance. Though SNSD is certainly made up of talent and produces fun and catchy music I've always found it strange how people can get THAT fanatical about... well anything really. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of certain things but the scene there was pretty intense! Still seeing them perform was good fun! 

Next up was YB, a group of rockers who ROCKED! They were great, and though I'm woefully unfamiliar with their music, that show alone has made me interested. It was fun to rock out which is something I haven't done in a while. Great vocals, guitar solos and all manner of awesomeness! YB you've made a fan of me. 

JYP as seen at Akaraka - didn't take this one either! ㅜ_ㅜ
And finally was the finale with JYP. Now I have to say that though I know who JYP is I've only really come to know him as that older guy who produced Wonder Girls and the guy with the ridiculous haircut in Itaewon Freedom who sort of resembles a Guerrilla. After I saw him perform however I would go as far as to call him the Michael Jackson of Korea, only he's still alive. JYP treated us to an impressive vocal range, smooth dancing, and some excellent song variety, definitely a triple threat.

After the celebrity performances we had a long cheering session in which we all got together and sang Yonsei anthems in Korean and the lyrics were ran on a screen so we could follow along. We were also encouraged to do dances! It was like a mass Karaoke! During the cheering session there was a spectacular fireworks show which marked the end of the concert. It was truly a spectacle. Note that if any of you are thinking of taking the time to study in Korea just about every university has similar shows, so keep that in mind! 

Still the best experience I had was when Yoon Mi Rae was singing Get It In. I was standing about the same elevation of the stage and not very far from it at all to her left and I was the tallest guy in that part of the crowed and was being very animated, because Yoon Mi Rae is frickin' AWESOME! While she was singing she turned to the right side of the audience, the middle and then finally to the side I was on. While she was looking at my area she fully pointed in my direction (possibly directly at me) just as she was going into the chorus, which I was singing and gesturing along with. When the chorus happened I started 'bouncing' (jumping in the air with my hand up) and she totally started doing it too right after I started doing it while looking in my direction. I cannot be 100% sure that she singled me out, but I was the tallest and most animated person (most the people around me were just sort of bobbing along), and easily recognizable as a foreigner so I'm pretty sure it was me she was pointing at. If that is truly the case, than I shared a moment with who I would argue, is the BEST rapper in Korea! Whoo! Thanks Tasha!                                

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Know your Singlish

Ever wonder what language they speak in Singapore? If you said Singaporeanese you would be wrong; if you said English, Chinese, Malay, or Tamil you would be almost right; and if you said all of the above you'd be spot on (at least as far as "official" languages are concerned). Here in South Korea I've had the privilege of making a number of Singaporean friends and I've begun to learn a thing or two about this bustling multicultural Southeast Asian city-island-nation. 

Not my pic but a nice display of Singlish
While I have yet to travel to Singapore, which I feel will happen eventually, being a fan of sociolinguistic study, I have to say that one of the neatest things I found out about Singapore is the existence of Singlish. As you may have guessed, Singlish is a Singaporean dialect of English that contains a mish-mash of linguistic elements from the various languages commonly spoken by Singaporeans. By and large it's not all that different from Standard English pronunciation-wise but there's a whole bunch of slang and colloquialisms that would be lost on the average North American, making it virtually unintelligible in some cases. However, you do not need to live in ignorance, my friends! For at http://www.singlishdictionary.com/ you may have access to a regularly updated database of Singlish vocabulary! Impress your Singaporean friends with your cultural savvy or, if you're planning to travel or work there, this could be a great resource! Just remember to make sure you're using the right slang -- not that I'm trying to "arrow" you or anything.

          

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Million-dollar Question

I love this! Just found a link to this video on angryasianman.com. I've talked about cultural perspective and the differences between ethnicity and culture and how they relate to "hyphenated" North Americans on this blog before, but this video pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter . . .


Yes, this goes out to all you "hyphenated" folks in North America who have to deal with periodically being asked the question "What are you?" Being a white Canadian who speaks fluent North American English, I never have, but come to think of it, why not? (This is supposed to be a rhetorical question. I already know the damned answer.) If you've read my 2012 post "The Hyphenated" (http://alexeastasian.blogspot.kr/2012/04/hyphenated.html) and my other post from the same year, "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other" (http://alexeastasian.blogspot.kr/2012/05/one-of-these-things-is-not-like-other.html) you'll know that I think about this kind of stuff a lot.While I feel it inappropriate to apologize on behalf of my "race" or some such pandering thing, I certainly find it irksome that many people feel it's perfectly legitimate to ask this question to my non-white friends in such an upfront and culturally (and I do mean CULTURALLY) insensitive way.

The problem with asking "What are you?" is that, aside from being an illogical question, it suggests that you are making assumptions about the people you are talking to. Namely that they are different from you in just about every way (including but not limited to such areas as ethnicity and culture). After all, that's why you would have to ask, am I right? While the appearance part is likely true, which is why you would feel inclined to ask such a question in the first place, ETHNICITY IS NOT THE SAME THING AS CULTURE and to think so is deeply problematic. When you ask someone "What are you?" you are assuming that because they look a certain way, they act a certain way. And people generally hate to be prejudged; I know I do!     

The truth is you can't make assumptions about ANYONE. Remember that old axiom "You can't judge a book by its cover"? That's never gone away! However, if like me you live in an ethnically and culturally diverse city and you're curious about people, as I often am, no matter what your ethnicity there are WAY better ways to pose this question, as indicated below. . .

1. "What is your ethnicity (or ethnic background)?"

This is the most direct and is not inherently offensive. You are not making any assumptions about the person; instead you are merely indicating that you are unsure of their ethnicity and are curious. If the person you're asking this of becomes offended, they are likely oversensitive for whatever reason. Simply let them know that you're just curious and want to know more about them. If they want to be a jerk about it, it's not your fault.    

2. "Where does your family originate?"

I would imagine that this could get complicated in cases of "interracial" adoption, but generally it's also not making any assumptions either. Same as the above, only the wording is more specific. "Originate" is the key word here. You are suggesting that while they may be culturally similar to you, it is obvious from their appearance that long-deceased members of their family came from a different place than long-deceased members of yours did.

3. "What are your ethnic roots?"

The use of "roots" here could be problematic. I'm not sure this is the best way to ask, but again I feel it's pretty safe. Again, not asking where they themselves are from but where their previous generations came from.  

4. "Where did your ancestors come from?"

Same potential problem as the third, but again deals with archaic origins and not the presently living generations.

5. "What's your cultural background?"

This one is widely accepted but I feel it's problematic because of the use of the word "culture." I feel that it makes too many assumptions. I may be nitpicking though.

Here are just five examples, and while these are likely not perfect, they are much better than asking "What are you?" in any case . . . unless you're talking about Halloween costumes. Ethnicity is what you're born with and often dictates the way you look physically, and culture is what you get from growing up in a certain environment. See? Different.

So there you have it! If you've ever wondered why people give you funny looks or get pissed off when you ask them "What are you?" then this is likely the reason. A little sensitivity will go a long way and make everyone just that much more comfortable. If you are interested in getting to know someone for potential dating purposes who is of an ethnicity other than your own, you may even score brownie points for asking this question in such a culturally sensitive way.

Afterthought: If you're one of those annoying people who think this is all just PC nonsense, then to you I say, good luck dealing with multiculturalism and globalization -- in case you didn't realize, these two things happen to be trending. Get with the program, that's all.         

Sweet Treats For Your Ear Holes - Zion T. - Red Light

Like R&B? Don't mind listening to some sweet Korean beats? Then this is what you should be listening to RIGHT NOW.

Album cover for Zion T's Red Light
These days Zion T (a.k.a. Skinny Red) seems to be the talk of the town in the indie hip-hop and R&B scene, with a number of collaborations over the past couple of years with a number of prominent Korean hip-hop artists. I got my first taste of his sweet vocals from "Secret 2," off Dok2's (that's pronounced "doke-ee" by the way) Love & Life, the Album, which I had on repeat for months! Recently Skinny Red has gotten in with Amoeba Culture, the Dynamic Duo-founded collective of diverse and talented hip hoppers, and also released his first album -- which is really damned slick! 

Zion T
Red Light, Zion T's debut, is an omnibus of sweet sounds featuring such artists as Dok2, Verbal Jint, Beenzino, YDG, Crush, and Gaeko, from my all-time favourite Korean group, Dynamic Duo. Each track has a distinctive sound and feel, and while I certainly like some tracks more than others, the album comes across as being really solid overall and produced with care while demonstrating Zion T's diverse vocal range. I was blown away by the track 지구온난화, feat. YDG, which had Skinny Red singing reggae and doing a damned good job of it. Listening to this album for this first time can be likened to eating an expensive box of handmade artisan chocolates. You might not like them all equally but you can't help but appreciate the time and effort that went into making them -- definitely worth your time and money if you like R&B, hip hop, or just well-produced music overall. 

P.S. His videos are also wonderful! Here's a taste for your viewing and listening pleasure . . .

            

Simon D, Dynamic Duo and Epik High and the Story of How I Got into Korean Hip Hop

That's a long title, I realize, but I found this (albeit kind of old) fantastic clip of a bunch of my favorite big-name Korean rappers and I thought I simply must share it. But then another idea popped into my mind, which was that I have never shared with my blog audience how I came to like Korean hip hop in the first place! So now I shall take this opportunity to introduce both this clip and also the origin story of one of my primary interests. So, without further ado . . .

If you are my friend or know me personally, then you must surely know I love me some Korean hip hop. In fact one could say that I listen to Korean hip hop more frequently than probably any other genre of music and that would not be an exaggeration. It all began when I started dating my first Korean (that's native Korean, not Korean-American) girlfriend, who was studying English in Toronto for a year, and realized I didn't know too much about Korea beyond a bunch of movies I had seen. I decided that this simply would not do, as I figured my girlfriend would probably enjoy talking about her own country and its pop culture with me from time to time, so I started indiscriminately downloading Korean music and music videos, of which I had heard or seen only a little. Among some random Rain, TVXQ, BOA and SG wannabe videos (this was 2006, by the way), one of the videos I happened to download was Dynamic Duo's "Ring My Bell" and MC Mong's "Ice Cream."

Now I realize MC Mong was never considered a real rapper by most of the Korean rap community and has in recent years fallen from grace after a military scandal that was big news back in 2011. However, I would argue that "Ice Cream" is most certainly a piece of hip-hop music, and it sounded pretty cool to me and was packaged with a pretty hilarious video. However, what really got me going was Dynamic Duo with their hilarious music video, a mix of haphazard movie parodies of Drunken Master, The Exorcist and '70s cop dramas mixed with other screwball imagery. This was all capped off with the excellent flow of the song that the video was produced for, "Ring My Bell," which borrowed its chorus from an old disco song of the same name. Here are those two videos so you may relive my experience!



Naturally at the time I had no idea what they were rapping about but it sounded pretty legit. I must have watched that video countless times, and when I went to karaoke (or norebang) with my Korean friends, I would try to sing the song phonetically. I was hooked. I could tell by the video that Dynamic Duo had a great sense of humour and could laugh at themselves while still taking their music seriously, which is something I really respect in artists. Part of the major intrigue about the whole thing was also that at the time among non-Koreans, Korea was known for being a country of hard-working and conservative salarymen and factory workers who ate kimchi all the time, went into the army, and didn't know how to have fun. So I (who was also woefully ignorant of Korea at time) was pretty surprised to find a thriving hip-hop community that had been growing since the early 1990s! Thus I immediately dove into the world of Korean hip hop with much enthusiasm and zeal!

All I can say is, thank the heavens for the Internet! On YouTube and other video sites that deal more with East Asian media, I was able to find many songs and videos from Dynamic Duo's library, and never was I disappointed. To this day I have yet to hear a track from them that I utterly dislike, and I own all their albums in CD form (including albums from their previous incarnation as three-man team CB Mass). In searching for more Dynamic Duo I happened to stumble upon many other Korean hip-hop greats, many of whom were closely affiliated with Dynamic Duo. These included such legendary names as Drunken Tiger (often hailed as the father of modern Korean hip hop), Yoon Mi Rae (a.k.a. Tasha), Epik High, Leesang, Yang Dong Geun (a.k.a. YDG), Bobby Kim, Bizzy, MC Sniper, and a slew of others. From that point on the ball kept rolling and I found more and more artists, both mainstream and indie, who I couldn't help but add to my playlist. Which brings us to the present and the finding of this clip that I would like to share with you!

Here's the clip!


So this apparently happened last winter. What we have here is an introduction and, I would guess, the first act of this mega-concert, which features a number of prominent Korean artists performing their hits for a massive audience. The track in the introduction is sort of like five mini-tracks in one and was available on hiphopplaya.com (a prominent Korean hip-hop website) as a free download. Originally I just wanted to share the track with you all, but then I found this video! The track is a collaboration between Dynamic Duo, Simon D, and Epik High, three heavy hitters in the world of Korean hip hop presently. I have to say that in the opening track, Mithra Jin (the guy in the limo) I feel has the best flow, but they all do a pretty damn good job, and it's really fun to see them all chilling together. To add to the awesomeness, they all arrive in a stadium at the end and mix a bunch of lyrics from their famous tracks into a hip-hop reworking of Psy's "Gangnam Style." Woo!                    

       

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Art Attack - Tenmyouya Hisashi

Here's something neat!

"Para-para dancing (The Great Empire of Japan) vs. Break-dancing (America) " by Tenmyouya Hisashi
I've recently discovered and developed a keen interest in contemporary Japanese artist Tenmyouya Hisashi, whose entire catalogue can be found at his website, http://www3.ocn.ne.jp/~tenmyoya/. Tenmyouya is a visual artist who mixes modern imagery with traditional Japanese art motifs, which makes for visually intriguing illustrations that, at least to me, appear to have culturally insightful implications! Many of his paintings contain references to pop and Japanese gangster culture and are often mingled with images of samurai and other visual cues prevalent in Japanese tradition. While I'd not presume to understand what each painting is meant to convey, they are certainly interesting and depict some genuinely cool and creative images. Check him out with the link provided!     

Monday, May 20, 2013

Big E, Little E, E,E,E,E,E,E,E,E,E



Last Friday night I sojourned at the Cakeshop Seoul, located in Seoul's main foreign district -- known as Itaewon -- in order to attend an album launch party for one of my favorite and most bizarre Korean indie groups, known as EE (이이) Total Art.

Big E and Little E, Hyun-joo (right) and Yun-joung (left) 
Comprising the husband-and-wife duo of Yun-joung Lee, an active force in Korean music for many years, and Hyun-joon Lee, a DJ and installation artist, the group defies description as a sort of conceptual art/music/DJ hybrid of a group whose musical style seems to change with every album release. (Lee is pronounced ee in Korean, which is why the group is called EE -- which is read as E-E.) Perhaps the oddness of the group can be summed up in that I found it a challenge to find someone to accompany me to the party, after having shown their music videos to a number of my friends -- they apparently found them "too weird." Regardless, it was this "weirdness" that had initially drawn me to them, and I love them for it. Frankly speaking, I've never seen another group quite like this one in Korea, or elsewhere, and when I saw on their Facebook page they were throwing a party, I had to go!


This is not my pic. I lifted it from puma.com.
The Cakeshop Seoul is a fairly small venue, essentially a small club that offers a cool alternative setting to most of the clubs in Korea, with a more eclectic and thus more appealing (to me) mix of DJs and music genres. The party that I attended had a few guest DJs as well, also from EE's record label, Foundation Records, who were all pretty awesome in their own right. I have to say, though, that Smells, one of the Foundation DJs who has collaborated with a number of other notable indie artists, set himself apart that night with some awesome mixes of funk and soul music. Really cool! 

Their new album, Unprdctv Prdct.
The DJ who followed Smells was Hyun-joon himself, whom I didn't recognize, as he had cut off his signature long, flowing locks, until Yun-joung appeared behind him and belted out two of the group's headline tracks from their latest album, "Miss Amazon" and "GAWEEBAWEEVO," in her signature and totally natural high-pitched, childlike singing voice. Because the place was so small we were literally right beside her as she sang, and she came into the audience and started dancing like a maniac as she sang! It was a pretty awesome experience. I expected her to return and to reprise some of their older songs, but unfortunately they left after some time, which I didn't notice until after the fact. For that reason I didn't get a chance to say hi, which I find regrettable. It was okay though, since it wasn't really a formal concert or anything and the DJs were stellar and the cover price very reasonable. Still, I hope I get another chance in the near future to see these wild cards again! Love you, EE! I'm not sure I can explain what you're doing, but keep doing it! I've taken the liberty of posting links to some of their music videos below! Check 'em out if you're a fan of avant-garde musical projects. WOO!

              


And if you liked them, here's their...

'Whole Lotta Buddhism

Last weekend was Buddha's birthday here in South Korea, and much to my chagrin I missed out on just about ALL the festivities because I didn't know where and when they were happening! >.< (Korean emoticon of exasperation). While this was certainly very annoying, I did happen to find some neat stuff on the interweb concerning Buddhism, which may be pretty nifty for those of you who are interested in it as a point of practice or study.

I love this picture. It's kind of like you told a really bad joke and he's giving you "the look." 
Have you ever wanted to read EVERY Buddhist sutra in existence in the English language?! Well, now you can! Head on over to http://buddhasutra.com/, where there exist digital copies of every single Buddhist sutra, translated into English for your downloading pleasure, absolutely free! (Assuming that you've already paid for the Internet, of course.) While the translations and content are quite complicated, often enigmatic and perhaps at times overly concise, many of the sutras themselves are quite short and may give some of you insight into this religion that has shaped so much of East Asian culture. If you happen to be an East Asian cultural enthusiast such as myself, it's always a good idea to know a thing or two about it. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Returner

Anyone remember that Takeshi Kaneshiro (Gum Sing Mo) movie of the same name as the title of this post? Anyone? ... This post is not about that movie.  

Where were you, Alex!? I needed your insight! 
I really have to stop disappearing and leaving month-long gaps between postings if I want this blog to go anywhere, but lately I was so wrapped up in a number of things concerned with my foreign exchange experience, which left me with little energy or time to blog. However, now I have returned and hopefully for good, as running this blog is always interesting and never not! So, my dedicated readers (a.k.a. my mother), fear not, for I shall once again regale you with all manner of East Asian knowledge through the lens of my brain! (I feel that last sentence doesn't make any sense.)   

So what happened to me? I was maintaining another blog, intensively learning traditional Korean drumming, studying, drinking, having fun, sleeping, going to concerts, etc., etc. Life here in Korea has been fun, hard, depressing, uplifting, inspiring, and considerably insightful and is soon coming to an end. My original plan was to intensely document the whole experience on this blog, but my schedule made that very difficult. Hence I have decided to fill you all in after the fact, as it just makes things much easier for me. Many bloggable things have taken place and I wish to tell you about them over the next while, as well as providing my usual commentary on random stuff. Stay tuned (or bookmarked?)!