OzAsia Festival Review: Seoul Meets Arnhem Land: Ecstatic Voice (Meeting Points: South Korea/Arnhem Land)

Backed by the Australian Art Orchestra, Seoul Meets Arnhem Land brings together South Korean performer, Bae Il Dong, and Indigenous Australian singer, Daniel Wilfred, in one simplistically beautiful performance combining two traditional forms of voice and song.

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Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 30 September 2017

Backed by the Australian Art Orchestra, Seoul Meets Arnhem Land brings together South Korean performer, Bae Il Dong, and Indigenous Australian singer, Daniel Wilfred, in one simplistically beautiful performance combining two traditional forms of voice and song.

Bae Il Dong, from Seoul in South Korea, is a master writer, educator and singer of p’ansori (street opera), a Korean genre of musical storytelling usually performed by one sorikkun (singer) and one gosu (a drummer playing a barrel drum called a buk). He is one of few contemporary p’ansori performers to follow the demanding traditional pathway to achieve the true performer’s voice. Historically, to master the essentials of p’ansori, a singer would have to spend a lonesome 100 days in isolation singing to waterfalls to “break” the voice to reveal its “true” tone.

Daniel Wilfred, from Ngukurr, Arnhem Land, is an incredibly talented singer completely dedicated to the rendition of Yolgnu manikay, traditional Arnhem Land music that is one of the continuously practiced music traditions in the world. Their songs have consistently been passed down through many generations from the ancestral beings who originally shaped the Yolngu lands. He is a part of the Young Wägilak Group, derived from the Wägilak Gujarra/Nyilapidgi (stone spear group), who are based in Ngukurr in the Northern Territory, from where they regularly make journeys to outer lying country regions to perform their role within ceremonial functions.

Both singers perform simultaneously in what is a dramatic fusion of two powerful voices. Despite the vocal differences in sound and tone, both forms of music revolve around similar themes of stories and improvisation, as well as a strong focus on the refinement of necessary vocal techniques consistent with the end result of incredibly hypnotic rhythms. Both forms of music have also evolved from a strong sense of connection with the earth and world around the singer, creating voices almost shaped by the earth itself.

Alongside them is singer, Jenny Barnes, and Simon Barker on drums who provide additional vocal and musical support to Dong and Wilfred. Barnes’ focus is on the range of sounds she can create in harmony with the two lead vocalists, while Barker adds touches of punch and rhythm throughout the entire performance.

This show is part of Meeting Points, a range of ensemble settings that bring together two different countries and samples of their traditional music. It is curated by Peter Knight who is a known best for his fascinating approach of integrating jazz and the experimental genre with world-wide traditional music.

Seoul Meets Arnhem Land is an enlightening musical experience that takes the audience deep into traditional music not normally found in mainstream performances. The combination of two varying vocal forms create a hypnotic song that fashions both moments of harmony and then moments of vast contrast, creating a beautiful music experience for all.

Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Twitter: @Georgie_xox

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