Samulnori is a group of four dynamic musicians dedicated to performing and preserving traditional Korean music and dance. The Korean words sa and mul mean four objects and nori means to play. In the case of Samulnori, it refers to the four musicians playing and dancing with their four percussion instruments. Founded in 1978, SamulNori (the group) sparked a renaissance in Korea’s music scene and has garnered worldwide acclaim.
SamulNori, founded by Kim Duk Soo, the group’s leader and master of the janggu (hour glass drum), has become the leading institution of traditional Korean performance that maintains up to thirty students selected and trained by Mr. Kim. The group performs in many configurations but usually tours as a quartet with Mr. Kim at the helm.The original performers of SamulNori were Kim Young Bae (deceased in 1985) who played kwaengari, Choi Tae Hyun on jing, Kim Duck-soo on janggu, and Lee Jong Dae (now teaching at a university) on the buk. But soon after, Choi Jong Sil took over on kwaengari, and Lee Kwang Soo onbuk. In 1993, SamulNori became SamulNori Hanullim, Inc. (Hanullim means big bang). This growth from a four-man performance ensemble into a company of thirty artists and students meant that SamulNori’s dedication to traditional Korean arts, music, and dance over the last two decades has now become a viable educational and research enterprise.
Over the years, SamulNori’s U.S. tours have brought them to New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Hawaii. In 1985 the Asia Society was awarded an Obie for Outstanding Achievement in the Off-Broadway Theater for introducing SamulNori to New Yorks stages. SamulNori has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at the Smithonian Institution as part of an effort to establish scholarly exchanges between the Smithonian and Korea.
They also appeared at the Percussive Arts Society Convention in Dallas and served a residency for the Ethnomusicology Department at the University of California at Berkeley. Internationally, SamulNori has toured Germany, Austria, Great Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, China, Australia, and Greece where they accompanied the Korean Olympic representatives for the lighting of the Olympic torch in 1988. They also visited Italy where they were filmed for a Puma sneaker commercial.
Samulnori has collaborated with many highly acclaimed musicians from around the world in a variety of styles of music ranging from jazz to pop. They have also performed concerts with orchestras playing music written expressly for them. They have taken part in many festivals including ‘Live Under the Sky’ in Japan and Hong Kong, the Kool Jazz Festival, Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD Festival, and the Han River (Korea) International Jazz Festival.
In addition to their busy touring schedule, SamulNori is dedicated to furthering the tradition of their unique performance techniques that they teach at the SamulNori Academy of Music in Seoul. They have been the subject of several books (including their own intensive instructional book) and videos for many labels, including SONY. All 15 of their musical recordings are also available.
Much of Korean culture came to be Westernized in recent times, and these processes threatened the survival of folk arts. In February 1978, a number of young performers (formally members of Namsadang, the wandering artist-entertainers) performed together, giving birth toSamulnori a traditional percussive musical group. The music they played then was ‘Utdari Poongmul’ (the kut rhythm of Kyonggi and Ch’ungch’ong Provinces), ‘Youngnam Folk Music,’ and ‘Honam Udo Kut.’ However, they improvised the music to suit the new trends and demands of the times. This ongoing musical experiment had a great impact on the culture and arts scene of Korea in that it revived interest of the people in the traditional arts.