Korean band Ssing Ssing, who played at this year’s Stepping Stone Festival on Jeju, have been gaining media attention in both Korea and abroad after a performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk.
The NPR Tiny Desk is a series of concerts run by American media organization NPR and held at the desk of host Bob Boilen. It features diverse performances and has previously featured stars such as Adele, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and T-Pain. The concert took place on Sept. 21 this year.
While the fact that a relatively unknown band in Korea has gained such international is certainly part of the reason behind the press coverage back home, another is the fact that the band have a unique style that is both influenced by both contemporary music and shamanic culture.
This manifests itself in both the way they sound and look.
First their music. Despite the fact that the band use guitars and drums, they play music that is inspired by traditional Korean folk music. Vocals play a big part of their songs as the three vocalists take turns singing in a regional folk style called Minyo.
This blend of influences produces a sound that Bob Boilen described as “unlike anything else he has ever heard before.”
The second thing that really makes them stand out is the way they look, with two of their six-strong lineup cross-dressing and wearing colorful wigs.
In their introduction on the NPR website, singer Lee hee-moon explains that the reason for this is also grounded in traditional shamanic culture.
"In Korean traditional art, male shamans, called baksu, have the body of a male. But as mediums, they need more than a single sexual identity, because they're channeling both male and female spirits. When I act a female character and sing, I have to overcome the fact of my being a male sorikkun (singer), and try my utmost to bring a more neutral, unisex feeling to the performance. It sounds silly, but I feel like going back to the sensibilities of my youth, when I liked Madonna, helps."
Reactions have positive both at home and abroad, with comments on the Youtube video both complementing the unique sound and mixture of styles, while also being curious about how the American radio station managed to find a band that sings in Korean and is basically unknown in its home country.
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