▲ South Carnival and the Creative Mornings team at Nexon Computer Museum. Photo by Yonghwan Han
The August meeting of “Creative Mornings” welcomed Kang Kyunghwan, of local band South Carnival, who spoke on the Jeju language and “haenyeo,” or diving women. Kang is a vocalist and trumpeter for the nine-member Pbro Sound group known for their high energy performances and frequent references to Jeju culture and language.
The event was held at the Nexon Computer Museum in Shin Jeju and this month’s theme was “Heritage.” Each of the 87 “Creative” cities around the world follows the same theme each month.
South Carnival’s music is eclectic and heavily influenced by ska, a genre Kang says reflects their Jeju identity, feeling an affinity with the music’s roots in resistance to poverty and oppression in Jamaica. Much like hip-hop, the genre has been appropriated by alternative cultures the world over, and Kang draws parallels with Jeju’s own history of oppression.
While stressing the band has never been political per se, when formed in 2009 they took the name “Socialism Band,” the name reflecting their philosophy of sharing culture equitably throughout society. However, it led to misunderstandings, and the name was changed to South Carnival, “which represents the character of our music,” said Kang.
▲ Kang Kyunghwan of South Carnival
Photo by Yonghwan Han
Carnival is apt, as the band’s performances resemble bouts of public revelry, combining ska, reggae, Afro-Cuban, samba, rock-n-roll, heavy metal, religious music and much more. The music, accompanied by flamboyant dancing and raucous audience participation, is heavily instrumental with guitar, bass, keyboard and drums, to djembe, saxophone, trombone, and trumpet.
Colorful local language use is also a defining feature of the band’s style, a far cry from Kang’s school days when he was reprimanded for using the local vernacular. Fortunately, he says, he had his grandmother at home with him, and she taught him “Jejueo” whenever possible. Nowadays, Kang says that people are finally beginning to have pride in their linguistic heritage.
“But now it is quite different. Many Jeju residents are trying to boost the Jeju language around the island and even on the mainland. It is no longer shameful to speak in Jeju dialect,” he said.
Kang said the moves within the culture scene to promote and preserve the dialect stretch back well over a decade, but the language failed to catch the imagination of mainlanders, something locals “agonized over.” It is only more recently that its use has exploded, not only within music, but film, the arts and elsewhere.
“We now think that if we, as Jeju language protectors, fail to gain popularity and share our feelings with the younger generation of both islanders and mainlanders, there will be a discontinuity at some point in the future. So, we try to keep reaching out to younger people and keep up with the times by introducing popular genre elements such as reggae and hip hop into our songs,” he said.
Carrying the hopes of “jomnyeo”
South Carnival’s cultural preservation plans extend further than language, as the band was active in the ultimately unsuccessful effort to have Jeju haenyeo (“jomnyeo” in local dialect) culture inscribed as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage earlier this year. Despite the diving women’s fame on Jeju, Kang says many mainlanders remain ignorant of their culture.
▲ South Carnival are renowned for their lively performances and cheery music. Photo courtesy South Carnival
“We all thought we had tried really hard, but the result was disappointing. When I visit Seoul and ask people [about the UNESCO bid] most are still ignorant of it. We decided to take steps ourselves to promote [haenyeo culture], and thought about what we could do as musicians to help increase recognition of Jeju haenyeo among mainlanders and the international community,” said Kang.
Kang’s own maternal grandmother was a haenyeo — “she used to catch seafood right before my eyes” — and a new album dedicated to the women, entitled “Jomnyeo Iyagi”, or Haenyeo Stories, was released on July 28. He says the album tries to express all sides of haenyeo life, from the strong and independent image of cultural protectors, to the hard reality of life for women supporting whole families.
“The first song, “Jomnyeo”, is bright and about the everyday life of haenyeo, with exciting Latin rhythms to express their resilience in overcoming hardships ... for their families. The second song, “Eomeong,” which means mother, is a gloomy one and is about their sacrifices as mothers and talks about emotional suffering from their perspective,” said Kang.
He added that we should not romanticize haenyeo culture, pointing out that the young women often started diving at around 15 years of age, and would rather have been playing with friends than entering the sea.
▲ South Carnival's "Eomong"
Image courtesy Pbro Sound
“In old days, when people didn’t know well about diver’s disease and decompression sickness, many young haenyeo died for unknown reasons, and many more died in accidents while diving and catching sea creatures... They had to support their families financially and faced many risks and diseases, and kept losing many beloved friends of their own.”
Kang hopes South Carnival’s music can help people “understand and feel empathy with the Jeju haenyeo,” something many in the audience surely did as he performed both “Jomnyeo” and “Eomeong” that morning.
In closing, Kang urged Jeju residents to come out and support local bands as he believes a vibrant music scene is essential to ensuring the next generation of Jeju people is proud of their heritage.
“We have to make our own culture with our own hands, and we need everybody’s interest and participation to ensure Jeju’s cultural heritage spreads,” he said.
About Creative Mornings Jeju
‘CreativeMornings’ is a free, monthly breakfast lecture series for creative communities around the world in 87 cities, with the first one in 2008 by Tina Roth Eisenberg in New York. It offers a free breakfast and short talks one Friday morning per month. The next theme is Failure, and will be posted on creativemornings.kr. The Jeju venue is sponsored by SOPOONG and Nilmori Dong Dong.
South Carnival members
Vocal & Trumpet - Kang Kyunghwan
Trombone - Kim Geonhoo
Alto Saxophone - Shin Yugun
Tenor Saxophone - Lee Yongmun
Guitar - Kang Taehyeong
Piano Lee Hyemi
Bass - Ko Sujin
Percussion - Ko Kyunghyeon
Drum - Suk Jihwan
Trombone - Yang Yunseok
For more about South Carnival visit their website here or their Facebook page here.
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