Unique folk-music performer visits UNE

Published 24 July 2009

bakchoA musician from Japan who writes and performs songs inspired by the history of Japan’s Korean community is visiting the University of New England this week to collaborate on a study of music in Osaka between the two World Wars.

As a child, Bak Cho (pictured here), who was born into a Korean family in Japan, listened to his parents and grandparents sing folk songs that carried subtle but profound messages about the plight of Koreans under Japanese imperial rule. His interest in these songs was reinforced when, at university, he was able to relate these Korean folk songs to student “protest” songs.

Now, as a performer throughout Japan, his mission is to use his music both to inform Japanese people about their country’s annexation of Korea in 1910 (and its consequences for Korean people), and to support the pride of Japan’s Korean population in their cultural heritage.

In many of the songs he sings in Japanese (he also sings in Korean and English), Bak uses the Korean accent that he heard on the lips of his grandparents. This reinforces his message about the historical oppression of the Koreans in Japan and the desire of the current population – 600,000 strong – to maintain their cultural identity.

Bak Cho is visiting Armidale to collaborate with UNE’s Associate Professor Hugh de Ferranti on work associated with Dr de Ferranti’s research project, funded by the Australian Research Council, titled “Music and Modernity in Interwar Osaka”. They are jointly writing a paper about memories of singing and the role of song in maintaining the cultural identity of Japan’s Korean population.

Bak will give UNE and Armidale people a taste of his music this evening (Friday 24 July) in a free after-dinner performance at 7.30 pm in the dining hall at Mary White College. As well as his unique style of folk song referring to the history of Koreans under Japanese rule, his repertoire includes love songs and other themes more familiar to an Australian audience. He will accompany the songs on guitar and (for some) puk – a Korean drum.

While in Australia he has attended a conference of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia in Sydney, and has given performances in Canberra and Melbourne. His concert for the Korean community in Melbourne was an emotional experience for many in the audience, reminding them of long-forgotten sentiments.

This weekend he will give two performances in Sydney: one for the Korean community, and the other – attended by the Premier, Government Ministers and Korean diplomats – in memory of the Australian soldiers who died in the Korean War.