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Excitement explodes in Seoul national university

Mar 15, 2021

Leenalchi is an alternative pop band that has positioned itself as an exquisite blend between pansori and popular music. They have exceeded 500 million cumulative views through 〈Tiger Coming Down〉, which utilized a section of Pansori Sugungga, and properly highlighted the charm of Korean traditional music around the world. In the 21st century pansori, Leenalchi's voice, known as K-Excitement, renders the exquisite and beautiful world of Korean traditional music and pop in a unique way that no one else could have. The exciting world created by Leenalchi, the “Idol of Joseon” gets us moving.

Vocal part of Leenalchi (Song-hee Kwon, Lee-ho Ahn, Na-rae Lee, Yu-jin Shin) (Alumni of Department of Korean Music, SNU)
Vocal part of Leenalchi (Song-hee Kwon, Lee-ho Ahn, Na-rae Lee, Yu-jin Shin) (Alumni of Department of Korean Music, SNU)

Leenalchi, the renowned master summoned to 21st century Joseon

Leenalchi is a band that was formed at the suggestion of director Jang Young-gyu, who met the band members on the set of the animated music drama 〈Dragon King〉 in 2018. Young-gyu Jang and Jung-yeop Jeong are on base, and Cheol-hee Lee plays the drums, while Lee-ho Ahn, Song-hee Kwon, Na-rae Lee, and Yu-jin Shin, are four singers from Seoul National University's traditional music department. The name ‘Leenalchi’ is the stage name that Lee Gyeong-sook, who was active in the 19th century, was given because he walked on the tightrope like a flying fish (nalchi) when he was a young man. It is said that his sound was as clear as the sound of a trumpet and was akin to the sound of a bird. When the band was formed, it needed a name, but we decided on ‘Leenalchi’ because the fresh feeling of a flying fish seemed to fit well with “Alternative Pop,” which is the music genre we wanted to pursue. “It’s pop, but it’s not like pop. It is often interpreted as an alternative pop, but it is not a meta-alternative, but refers to our goal of surviving in the pop market by doing what we do well.” (Lee-ho Ahn)

Perhaps they connected over the desire to survive in the pop music market with the Korean traditional music that they excelled at? The cumulative number of views of “Feel the Rhythm of Korea”, a promotional video of the Korea Tourism Organization, co-starring Leenalchi and the Ambiguous Dance Company, was over 500 million views. The song 〈Tiger Coming Down〉 in the promotional video for the Seoul promotional video created the syndrome of “a tiger a day” and fostered a craze for traditional Korean music in society. The enthusiastic public responded to their music by giving Lee Nalchi the nickname “Joseon's Idol”. “I started Leenalchi the day when I ran into the limits of the genre of Korean music. I think there is still a long way to go, but I am very grateful when I see all the interest in the genre now, since the potential of Korean music has widened.” (Yu-jin Shin)

The excitement of Korean traditional music overflows

Leenalchi released their first album 〈Sugungga〉 in May of last year. Sugungga is a pansori work that has a deep connection with Leenalchi. The motif of 〈Dragon King〉, a work starring Yang Jung-woong as a theater wayfarer and featuring musical director Jang Young-gyu was Sugungga, and the members who met on the set 〈Dragon King〉 joined forces to create Leenalchi. “Out of the five existing pansori masterpieces, I think Sugungga is the one that features satire, fantasy and animal characters. Pansori, who focuses on characters, often becomes trapped in its own characters, but Sugungga juxtaposes human history within the animal world. That’s what makes it fun.” (Song-hee Kwon)

Leenalchi adopted the musical direction to create “music that can be danced to”. Music that makes your shoulders shake even when you just listen to the chorus. Leenalchi is making music that both listeners and singers can dance to. “I made music with pansori, but when I get asked why I wanted to make it similar to dance music, my answer is because I am happy when I make noise. The joy that a singer feels while singing is difficult to convey to those who do not understand Korean traditional music well. This was a regrettable fact of being a young singer. So I was happy with the direction that music director Jang Young-gyu gave us, namely, to make music that could be danced to.” (Na-rae Lee)

Another unfortunate aspect was the public's view of traditional music from the vantage point of young singers. “Dance to Korean traditional music, do this with Korean traditional music. It seems that there are a lot of cases where Korean traditional music is particularly personified. But since music is what people do, music cannot exist without people, but I think the problem is much simpler when we try to understand the people who play music rather than trying to understand the music itself by giving it a personality.” (Lee-ho Ahn)

Pieces of inspiration collected at school

The young singers of Leenalchi share more in common than simply “Korean traditional music”. They have all seen the vast Seoul National University campus and the magnificent ridge-like scenery of Mt. Gwanak spreading onwards. Memories of their time at the beautiful school became the basis for enriching their artistic world. “I participated in Madangpae Tal, the Madanggeuk theater circle. This was an activity that affected me the most when I was at Seoul National University, and it was a time when I learned a lot by talking with friends who had diverse points of view and who grew up in different environments after having previously spent time only with friends who practiced Korean traditional music.” (Na-rae Lee)

In addition to club activities, Ahn also remembered the now deceased Professor Oh Yong-rok. Even when practicing until dawn, the lights in the professor's office were always on. When faced with sharp questions from students, he told us he would find the answers to our questions by the following week. “I remember being very moved by seeing people practicing hard even though they were not majoring in music while in 'Chuimsae', a club that taught pansori, and in the guitar circle.” (Yu-jin Shin)

Song-hee Kwon studied Korean classical music and finished a doctoral degree in the subject at Seoul National University. She cited the experience of being able to broaden her knowledge outside the field of Korean music while taking interesting courses related to other majors. “I met Lee-ho Ahn at Seoul National University and ended up joining Leenalchi. It was great to study while watching the beautiful changing scenery and the four seasons.” (Song-hee Kwon)

People who stay awake and are made to feel responsible

The four singers of Leenalchi attended Seoul National University and enjoyed many benefits regardless of how they felt individually, and remind us not to forget that the students of Seoul National University have always enjoyed benefits. “As I perform, I feel that I have become a person who plays a certain role in society, and I think that I can fulfill my responsibility based on what I have enjoyed in the past. Rather than being proud, I feel that I can be a person who can share with other people.” (Lee-ho Ahn)

After graduation, once you are part of society and meet up with alumni, it feels different. “I met a lot of friends at Seoul National University who are smart and think deeply about society. I'm proud of being an SNU alumni, and I've come to live with the idea that I should be an artist who thinks deeply, just like fellow alumni.” (Na-rae Lee)

As seniors, they wondered if there are any messages they would like to convey to SNU juniors. They were particularly sorry for the freshman last year because instead of enjoying the beautiful and precious period known as freshmen year, they were forced to stay home. Leenalchi was very grateful because such sacrifices enabled the group to continue their musical careers, albeit with limited performances. “Since the difficult times will pass someday, in the meantime, you can stream our music so that you do not feel depressed, find things that you can enjoy within.” (Yu-jin Shin)