A couple of weeks ago I suddenly got a Kakao Talk message from a member of the Hongbeopsa community. It was an invitation to attend their monthly culture program for foreigners. This time they planned an introduction to Samulnori, which means literally translated ” playing the four instruments”.
Long time ago, before my passion for Korea even started, I was passionated by the Japanese Kodo drummers. However, after attending a performance of the famous Kim Duk Soo’s Samulnori band in Belgium in 2001, I got more attracted by the strong and energetic sounds produced by the 4 different instruments.
On the 3rd Sunday of January, my wife and I, we went to the nearby Hongbeop temple, which is located in Geumjong dugu-dong, Busan. If you drive from Busan to Ulsan, your attention will certainly be drawn by the huge bronze (golden) Amitha Buddha statue, that can be seen from far.
An empty car battery delayed our arrival with 30 minutes so we missed the performance of the local Samulnori band. Even though it was winter it was not really cold so the whole event was planned to take place outside in front of the temple. Twelve foreigners had shown up for this event and all the instruments already had been distributed. I had no other option than taking the left over changgo, which is actually my favorite samulnori instrument.
It was traditionally performed in the rice villages to celebrate a good harvest. Band members are traditionally dressed in five main colors (black, white, red, blue, yellow) showing influences of shamanism but also of Korean Buddhism.
The four instruments are all associated with different weather conditions. The four instruments are all associated with different weather conditions and also the yin (um) & yang theory is reflected in them.
- The changgo (장구) is an hourglass shaped drum representing the sound of the rain (um – earth)
- The buk (북) is a drum associated with the clouds in the sky (um – earth)
- The ching (징) is a big gong representing the sounds of the wind (yang – heaven)
- The kwaenggwari (꽹과리) is a small gong associated with thunder (yang – heaven), which is often the lead instrument in farmers’ dance
Almost two hours after we started we ended our workshop. My respect for the acrobatic samulnori players only got bigger after this workshop. It must take them a lot of practice to play their instrument and to control their body without getting dizzy.