Preserving and Developing Music Traditions of the Shymkent Korean community

At present, numerous branches of science are focused on conducting a broad historical, cultural, and social study on the diverse and rich legacy of music art belonging to over 130 ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan.
28.11.2014 05:36 6089

Preserving and Developing Music Traditions of the Shymkent Korean community

At present, numerous branches of science are focused on conducting a broad historical, cultural, and social study on the diverse and rich legacy of music art belonging to over 130 ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan. The Diasporas are currently objects of historical, political, ethnological, social, and cultural research, though the list should not be limited to the abovementioned spheres.

Such essential issues as restoring the Korean language and nationality-specific customs and traditions, exploring the roots of the culture and developing it, unique and authentic as it is, in such aspects as arts and literature, enhancing interethnic friendship, and developing cultural and economic connections to other communities  are the top priorities of Kazakhstani Korean community. At the same time, artistic bands and clubs have been established for years; events of every scale, including republic-wide culture and arts fests, artistic, scientific, and craft exhibitions have been arranged continuously.

The present article is one of the first attempts at studying the formation and functioning of the music culture of the Shymkent Korean community. Expert members of the Office of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan have contributed greatly to the information search for evidence of the local Korean community’s activity.  

On November 21, 2013 a meeting with representatives of the local Korean diaspora, in which numerous artistic groups and their most outstanding representatives took part, was held in the so called Shymkent Friendship House. Scientists enjoyed communication with the Moranbon Choir[1], which has turned 22[2] this year, and studied the Korean band’s history.

Fascinating concert performances full of national color, which are by no means a rare occasion, though they are often held to celebrate events which are significant republic-wide. It is the initiative and endeavor of many creative teams as well as the active and meticulous work of the South Kazakhstan Region Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan headed by its chairperson T. Kurmanbayeva what makes such festive events possible. The Korean Center of Shymkent, headed by Yu. Yugay, is also active. Enthusiastic and active workers of the center helped the Assembly engage new admirers of Korean tradition, folk music, and art.  .  

During their trip, the scientists enjoyed communication with the Moranbon Choir[3], which has turned 22[4] this year, and studied the Korean band’s history.

The performance group, founded in 1991, is just as old as the Independent Republic. Every milestone in its forming and evolution shows a tight connection to its founder Yelena Kim.  In 1937, her parents were deported from the Far East. After settling in Chirchiq, Uzbekistan, the family led a miserable existence. It was in those wretched years that the singer born. According to the choir director, she has been singing for as long as she can remember. She has always been actively creative and participated in amateur performances at school. She mastered notation, the piano, and the Korean drum on her own. Despite her natural gift, great aptitude for music, and diligence, Yelena entered the Institute for Economics. It was not before 1989, when the first Korean Ethnic Culture Center opened in Shymkent, that her creative endeavor was released. The organization provided ample opportunities for handling numerous issues concerning expatriate communities within the Republic. In an interview to Yuzhniy Kazakhstan Newspaper, Ye. Kim shared her memories, “People felt happy to be united, especially the elderly, who did want the language, culture, and traditions of their ancestors to live on after they pass away. V. Kim was the first chairman of the center and the one who actually set it working.” Being a talented singer, lucky enough to have a naturally tender soprano, a full-blooded and sonorous voice, founded a group in 1991 to perform at events of every scale and level. It was the Moranbon Ensemble, founded in October, 1991 under the auspices of the famous social activist Boris Li and Sergey Mostovskiy, who took every effort possible and impossible to support the newly born choir.

In 1991 and 1999, she traveled her ancestral land, North Korea, to represent Kazakhstan at the April Spring Fest. In 1999, she was awarded with a gold medal at the 17th International Festival attended by representatives of 53 countries, which took place in Pyongyang, DPRK. Her highly professional presentation of Korean songs truly won the hearts of her compatriots. 

 She is presently working as a Korean teacher at Shymkent School 8. She never stops perfecting her scholastic attainments. In 1992, she completed a probation period at Seoul University in South Korea. At the same time, she continuously acts as a translator. 2005 was the founding year of the Chen Son (Friendship) Dance and Singing Band also directed by Yelena Kim.

She has been demonstrating admirable perseverance and an overwhelming sense responsibility in overcoming difficulties on her way to new achievements over the past years, working on a purely voluntary basis. She has been contributing directly to the preservation and development of Korean cultural tradition, working actively as a designer, stylist, film director, and the leader of her creative team. She has been searching tirelessly for new ideas while creating stage costumes, introducing ethnical elements to clothing and jewelry with   great consistency and showing fresh thinking in accentuating authentic Korean components. Costumes vibrant with color, beautiful headdresses, and diverse stage accessories, such as drums, fans, flowers, etc., which are characteristic of Korean music performances, never fail to impress the audience. The hanbok, the traditional Korean dress, is an inevitable attribute of a choir. From the very beginning, the creative team has been performing all across the Republic as well as abroad. Older and mid-generation musicians have performed in Moranbon at different stages. Elderly admirers of folk music enjoying both good voices and enormous enthusiasm have often performed to a full house. Some of them are N. Kim, M. Son, E. An, A. Hvan, Yu. Choe, O. Kim, and others.

Headed by its artistic director, Moranbon celebrated its twentieth birthday as a distinctly successful project. The choir has won numerous competitions and festivals and has been performing far beyond Shymkent and the country, which is an evidence of its unfailing popularity. The team has placed high at many folk art competitions, international festivals, and competition acros Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. They hardly ever miss such events as Language, Culture, and Tradition Days, Disabled Charity Actions, etc.

The folk repertoire of the ensemble are distinctly melodious and pronouncedly lyrical. “Ariran Moktom” (“The Ariran Peak”), “Toradi” (“The Flower), “Moranbon” (“Peonies”), “Pidulgi” (“Doves”), “Gohengo” (“Homesickness”), “Miriyan Ariran”, “Neleri”, “Emoni Nai Gouchuck” (“Motherland), “Pen Nore” (“Fisherman Song”), and “Pangapsymnidya” (“The Welcoming Song”) performed by both the younger and the older group make a statement about their professionalism and never fail to arouse genuine interest  in the audience. The choir never stop to work on improving their performance to achieve certain results. Their participation in numerous events arranged by the South Kazakhstan Region Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, in particular those held in Shymkent, prove the folk band, which has been making enormous contributions into the development of the ethnic art and promoting the Korean cultural heritage enthusiastically, to be extremely popular. At present, Ye. Kim has handed on the lamp to her granddaughter Anita. The gifted young singer inherited not only her grandmother’s voice but also her delicate grace and special interpretation manner. Her artistic accomplishments include awards of the highly prestigious South Kazakhstan Region Star Moment Competition, in which she participated as a singer. Admirers of folk music duly appreciated her performance of a traditional Korean song. Her grandmother is undoubtedly the one who encouraged the girl to explore the Korean language and customs, the love of which Yelena has been instilling in her since her earliest years.  

To sum up, it should be remarked that studying the music art of the Korean community gave us an unprecedented opportunity to explore the music traditions and heritage as well as the daily routine of the Koreans of Kazakhstan, in particular those living in Shymkent.

Numerous events, in arranging which the local Korean diaspora shows enormous enthusiasm, are an evidence of a high level of is cultural progress.


                                                                                          Musagulova G. Zh.

                                                                                         Candidate of Arts,

Associate Professor, Head of Music Studies Department,

                                                                                         M. O. Auezov Institute

 For Literature and Arts

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