Written by Josh Garcia
Photos courtesy of Asia Culture Center
While the summer heat shows no sign of slowing down, Gwangju’s summer festivals have blazed through the rainy season and trudged through the dog days as we finally arrive in August. The city’s many festivals have brought out the local community for celebrations big and small, as many people take time away from the comfort of their air conditioning to enjoy food, art, performances, games, and nature. But as we approach the end of this month, the ACC World Music Festival will make its mark as a high point of the season in celebrating its eighth year of international music and collaboration.
Originally known as the Gwangju World Music Festival, this event has grown every year since its inception in 2010 to become one of the city’s most prominent summer activities with current attendance easily reaching into the thousands. The festival takes pride in bringing musicians together from countries near and far to showcase their unique styles and collaborate. In 2016, the name was officially changed to the ACC (Asia Culture Center) World Music Festival, and it is now gearing up for its best lineup yet.
This year, the features include two full evenings of performances and activities, running from 5:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. on Friday, August 25, and from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 26. The musicians will hail from seven different countries, including Ghana, Mexico, Italy, India, Thailand, and the United States. Additionally, there will be children’s performances, a PyeongChang Winter Olympics zone, musical instrument merchants, and a variety of food vendors to enjoy.
One of the most intriguing performances is expected from Friday’s headliner and Seoul native, DJ Vandal Rock. Usually Vandal Rock’s sets are a mix of EDM with funk, pop, and hip hop, but this special performance will include a Brazilian element from the live instrumentation of Rapercussion, whose 120-member ensemble will rumble the festival grounds. Vandal Rock chose this collaboration for his love of musical variety and as a new experiment for his audience. “I always pursue and develop my own style that nobody does by introducing various genres of music in my set,” he said. He enjoys the connection this brings between him and his audience, regardless of the different experiences people may be going through in their individual lives. “I feel different emotions every performance. This will be my first time at this Gwangju festival, so it is exciting, and I can’t wait to meet all the people there.”
Another highly anticipated performance is Thailand’s own, Asia 7. The group uses an assortment of instruments to mix Thai folk with Western styles to create their own blend of Asian jazz-pop fusion. Since forming at Mahidol University, the group has gone on to gain a following, leading up to a performance at the Thailand International Jazz Conference in 2016. “Our musical influences are world music, fusion, and contemporary jazz, and so on… We want to create an identity for Thai folk musical instruments to be more prominent, by finding new rhythms, creating new melodies from Thai folk melodies, and combining jazz harmonies,” explains a member of the group. They have never performed in Gwangju before, and are very excited to be a part of the festival. “We like to be on stage, and when we communicate with each other with different notes, it shows in the audience. But most importantly, we create and play music in the way we want to. It is happiness.”
Friday is set to kick off with performances from a few local groups before Yogesh Samsi takes the stage at 7:00 p.m. Samsi is a renowned tabla player from India who is known throughout his country as one of the top gurus of the instrument. For those unfamiliar, tabla are a set of South Asian hand drums, somewhat similar to bongos. While the tabla are considered essential to Hindustani classical music, Samsi will be using this performance to collaborate with Sung Si-young, a master Korean flutist of the Seoul Metropolitan Traditional Music Orchestra, to venture into a hybrid territory of their two primary genres.
At 8:00 p.m., a South Korean indie band, Hyukoh, will take the stage. The band’s front man and singer, Oh Hyuk, has lived in various parts of China as well as South Korea, and is fluent in Mandarin, English, and Korean, giving his lyrics a true spark of linguistic diversity. They will be followed by Son Caribe, a salsa-merengue trumpeter from Hawaii who will be leading a special performance with Los Amigos. The nine-member group has three vocalists and six instrumentalists who create a vibrant fanfare of Brazilian and Afro-Cuban styles.
The Latin gusto will continue into the next set with Paco Renteria, a virtuoso flamenco guitarist from Mexico. Renteria began playing guitar at age seven and has gone on to play around the world with music legends such as Carlos Santana and Luciano Pavarotti. As a composer, he has written over 300 pieces for guitar, some of which have been featured in major feature films such as Desperado and The Legend of Zorro. His performance in Gwangju will be especially unique, as he teams up with South Korean pansori vocalist Kwon Song-Hee. Kwon is well known throughout the country for her soaring operatic vocal talent, and has explored beyond the foundation of her traditional Korean vocal teachings to incorporate a candid blend of flamenco, Italian, and other folk influences.
Saturday’s set will feature Kim Ju-hong and his Korean drum group Noreum Machi. The ensemble was founded in 1993 as a way to continue the tradition of Samulnori, a traditional Korean style of music that features percussive calls and response, shamanistic chants, and acrobatic dances. Ju-hong leads the group as they use janggo drums, buk barrel drums, and a collection of gongs to expand this tradition to modern audiences.
As the syncopated rhythms of Noreum Machi pound through the finale of their show, the evening’s energy will drift into the melodic vibes of the Amado LeeJaRam Band. This fresh talent from Seoul mixes folk and indie rock for a dynamic experience that smolders through their down-tempo ballads and rattles the walls with epic, guitar-driven jams.
Next on the schedule, Italy’s Almoraima is guaranteed to add a bold element to the day with flamenco fusion, rooted in gypsy panache. The group will take the stage with Song Kyung-gun, a wind instrument player from the world music group, Gongmyung. His specialty in using bamboo instruments has kept him in the spotlight for years as an enchanting and effortless performer.
The festival will culminate with the festival’s headliner, King Ayisoba. Ayisoba is one of the top performers of traditional Ghana music, using an instrument called a xalam, which many Westerners might consider the African ancestor of the banjo. His vocal chants concerning world politics, community, and declarations of peace are interspersed over the syncopated grooves that carry his audiences toward hope and gala.
Whether you are looking to boogie the night away or entrance yourself in walls of sound, the ACC World Music Festival will make for a memorable weekend of unique, world-class performances. Find more information on their official website at https://www.acc.go.kr/worldmusic or their Facebook page.
Josh Garcia is an English teacher who lives in Gwangju. He is a native Texan and uses most of his free time playing music and enjoying the outdoors.