[PAMS Choice] Baraji


[People] The Most Traditional yet Creative Music with Hope for the Well-being of All
[PAMS Choice] Baraji

When considering the gugak (Korean traditional music) groups that are active in overseas markets, such as Geomungo Factory, [su:m], and Jambinai, you may notice that many groups do not find success overseas until after the group has first been featured in some sort showcase, either domestic (Ulsan World Music Festival , Journey to Korean Music, PAMS Choice, etc.) or overseas. Such music groups are often designated for an official showcase at WOMEX, which acts as a catalyst for overseas expansion. They also tend to begin by offering their overseas performances for free before expanding their activities from a single performance to a multiple-performance tour.
Musical group Baraji, it seems, is the exception: The group skipped these interim steps without failure and began booking overseas tours full of paid performances. As a result, a growing amount of attention is being paid to this group, a testament to their outstanding achievements. What is it that enables such remarkable success? I interviewed Won Na-kyung, a haegeum (Korean traditional string instrument) performer of Baraji.   

Impromptu Music Based on Baraji Sori (Sound or Song) of Gut (Korean Traditional Shamanic Ritual)

Park In-hye: Congratulations on being selected for 2015 PAMS Choice and the WOMEX official showcase. What is the meaning of Baraji?

Na-kyung Won: Baraji is a purely Korean word (one with no roots in in other languages) that describes compassionate care given with unconditional support, which is similar to a widely used Korean word duitbaraji (taking care of). In gut, baraji refers to the impromptu harmony sung by accompanists that enhances the colors of the music of gut. Literally, we take care of people through our performances and songs.

Q: Baraji looks like more than just a performance or impromptu harmony made by accompanists. How is baraji performed at gut?

Won: In Jindo Ssitgim Gut (a traditional shamanistic ritual for the dead), a female shaman performs an impromptu sori while playing musical instruments. When accompaniment is provided for minyo (Korean traditional folk music), the musician provides impromptu accompaniment to the melody of the song, which is called suseonggarak. In gut, suseonggarak is performed with musical instruments and the human voice at the same time. Therefore, sometimes the song of the shaman and the sound of baraji proceed at the same time or they perform with totally different melodies such as sinawi (a traditional form of Korean music that is improvised by a musical ensemble). Or when the song is extended or has pauses, accompaniment is provided in the form of sori

Q: Could you explain more about the music of your group, Baraji?

Won: The particular form of music in gutbaraji—is the basis of our music. We perform musical instruments while singing. We sing to the accompaniment of the janggu (a Korean traditional drum), the ajaeng (a Korean string instrument), or the buk (a drum). It can be said that the essential characteristic of our group is the act of singing a song while playing musical instruments. It just seemed natural, then, that we would name our group Baraji.

Baraji Performances ©Seung-yeol Na Baraji Performances ©Seung-yeol Na  

Q: There have been some changes to the members of the group. How did the group start?

Won: Han Seungseok, professor of Chung-ang University, talked to some performers who graduated from the university and performed Korean traditional folk music, suggesting that they form a music group. These musicians were those who would mainly perform Namdo Music (the music of the southern part of Korea) such as Kang Minsu (percussion, vocals) from Jindo Island, who is familiar with Jindo Ssitgim Gut, as well as Jo Sungjae (ajaeng, percussion, vocals) and Kim Taeyoung (percussion, vocals). That’s how we started Baraji.  

Q: Now Baraji consists of percussion, gayageum, daegeum, haegum, piri, and vocals.  

Won: Kim Yulhee (vocals) joined the existing membership of Kang Minsu, Jo Sungjae, Kim Taeyoung, and Jung Kwangyoon (daegeum, percussion, vocals). In 2014, Lee Jae-hyuk (piri, taepyeongso), Won Nakyung (haegeum), and Kim Min-young (gayageum) joined. The essence of Namdo Music in our songs has been maintained by the existing members and these musicians play a very important role in our music. The boundaries of our sound are expanding thanks to Lee Jae-hyuk, who is an expert in the music of the western part of the Korean peninsula, and Kim Min-young, who specializes in bringing a creative quality to music.    

Unsophisticated and Rustic, but That’s Why It Hits the Spot

Q: Since Baraji solidified its current lineup, the group has shown outstanding progress. You released your first album this year, Beasohn, Song of Prayer, and your performances both at home and abroad were quite successful. What is Beasohn about, and what can we expect from your performance at PAMS Choice?  

Won: When we applied, we intended to perform “Beasohn, Song of Prayer,” “Ssitgim Sinawi, Instrumental Ensemble for the Dead,” “Muchuita, Shamanistic Percussion with the Wind,” “Baraji Chugwon, Baraji’s Wishes for You All,” “Mahnsun, a Song of Full Boat,” among a few others. These songs have been well received by Korean audience, but lyrics are a very important part of understanding them, which makes it difficult for foreigners to connect with them. For this reason, we excluded them from our set list and will instead stage new songs.  

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your new material?

Won: The new songs are “Hwuisanjo” and “Jeongdeun Ari.” We performed “Hwuisanjo” for the first time in July, which incorporates a fast hwimori jangdan beat (one of fundamental rhythmic patterns of Korean traditional music). Our audience liked this song very much. We have recently been working on a composition called “Jeongdeun Ari” that combines chilchae jangdan with the song “Ginarirang” done in the Gyeonggi minyo style. We will also perform a slightly shorter version of “Muchuita,” one that excludes the repeated parts. As for “Baraji Chugwon,” the song originally contained elements of chugwon (wish) music, which drew from the jeseok-geori (a Korean shaman song) of Jindo Ssitgim Gut. Parts of this style will remain, but a newly composed chugwon that is instead based on the rhythm and beat of Donghaean Byeolsingut is added to the latter part of the song.    

Q: The members of Baraji specialize in Korean traditional folk music, especially in the music of gut. I heard that you made a modern version of the song “Ssitgim Sinawi,” which has a structure of Korean traditional rhythms and where attractive gut melodies are played alongside those of different musical instruments. How do you invent new musical pairings like that?  

Won: Initial ideas usually come from Professor Han, the artistic director of Baraji. Regardless of the traditional order of music, we pick interesting parts and blend them together to create new jangdan or make melodies with short themes. When a structure is proposed, our members add more details to it; it’s like making one’s own melody. Jindo Ssitgim Gut itself is generally improvised, as you know, and so our members use melodies that they have learned from doing this kind of improv work. The same goes for the piri performer, haegeum performer, and gayageum performer; together, as Baraji, they produce melodies that they have learned from their past experiences. These impromptu melodies are what constitute our music, which is only complete after several rounds of improvised performances—the traditional way of making music.

Baraji Performance ©Seung-yeol Na Baraji Poster ©Baraji

Q: We can see the strong impacts of Jindo Ssitgim Gut in songs such as “Ssitgim Sinawi” and “Baraji Chugwon.”

Won: Five of our members are from the southern part of Korea and the parents of three of them are designated as Intangible Cultural Properties of Jindo Ssitgim Gut and Jindo Dasiraegi (a festival-like performance at funerals to comfort the mourning family of the dead).  1)Director Han is also from Jindo. For this reason, Jindo Ssitgim Gut has been the basis of our music, though it isn’t the only thing we perform. Actually, only two of our songs, “Ssitgim Sinawi” and “Baraji Chugwon,” are based on Jindo Ssitgim Gut—we are interested in the shamanic music of other regions, too. “Muchuita,” for example, is an interesting song that combines the shamanic music of the western and southern parts of Korea, a style we know about thanks to Lee Jae-hyuk, who specializes in music from the western part of Korea.    

1) Kang Minsu: The son of Kang Junseob, a master of Jindo Dasiraegi, No. 81 of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea
Jo Sungjae: The son of Song Sun-dan, a master of Jindo Ssitgim Gut, No. 72 of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea
Taeyoung Kim: The son of Kim Oh-hyeon, a master of Jindo Ssitgim Gut, No. 72 of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea

Q: What do you think is the appeal of Baraji?

Won: How unsophisticated and rustic it is? These days, there are many songs that succeed in being both sophisticated and orderly. Some music is difficult to understand because it gets caught up in atmosphere or nuance, ambiguity or abstraction. But our music has a clear message and is easy to understand. “Hwuisanjo” is made of a hwimori melody and “Ssitgim Sinawi” is made of songs performed by female shamans for ssitgim gut. The titles of our songs literally explain the song’s meaning, which I think is an approach that just makes sense to us. Our music is intuitive and transparent; our songs are not something you need to think about deeply.     

Q: Would you tell me about your plans for the future?

Won: After our September tour in Poland, we will have showcases at PAMS Choice and WOMEX in Hungary. Next, we’ll be staging a three-day performance at a small theater in Korea in December. This program is called Manpan: Pungnyu Seoul which shows remarkable gugak performances. We expect our performance in this program to encompass a wide variety of our songs. After PAMS and WOMEX, we plan to produce some new material or build upon some of our existing songs. Whenever we stage our performances, our songs change, which I think is the nature of improv music. We always prefer to go on stage with music that we’re comfortable with, rather than just staging as many performances as possible at home and abroad.   


©Park In-hye

Performance of 2015 PAMS Choice : ‘Beasohn’

Baraji’s set list includes songs that were played in many performances after the release of official album Beasohn. Lyric-heavy songs have been excluded, with the concert instead focusing on music that best showcases the group’s high level of musicianship. For PAMS Choice, Baraji will play “Hwuisanjo,” a fast-paced hwimori song; “Jeongdeunari,” which combines chilchae jangdan with the elements of a long “Arirang”; “Muchuita,” which shows various human feelings through a shamanic jangdan of the Gyeonggi-do and Jindo Island regions; and “Baraji Chugwon,” which consists of the chugwon aspect of a Jindo Ssitgim Gut, the dance of a gut, and the jangdan of a Donghaean Byeolsingut. The show will feature improvisation by the performers, accompanied by the main vocals and the sound of percussion and baraji that will fill the stage.    

Group of 2015 PAMS Choice : Baraji

Baraji is a pure Korean word that describes a type of compassionate care given from one person to another. In Korean traditional music, baraji refers to improvisation by accompanists that enhances the original essence of the music. The sound of baraji is maximized in the style known as Jindo Ssitgim Gut, establishing a unique form of music. As a group named after this technique, Baraji’s performances are based on the uniqueness of this musical form. Baraji is interested in creating music that is based on tradition but also in line with current trends. It aims to make contributions to a better world and life through its music.
Baraji was established in 2011 and staged a performance in 2015 to celebrate the release of its first album. The group has made significant achievements both at home and abroad: It was selected for the official showcase of the 2014 Ulsan World Music Festival APaMM, PAMS’ Journey to Korean Music, PAMS Choice, and is a part of the official showcase of WOMEX.   


In-hye Park_Public Relations Manager, Namsangol Hanok Village
In-hye Park_Public Relations Manager, Namsangol Hanok Village
In-hye Park majored in gugak (Korean traditional music) theory and worked as the musical director of Jeong Ga Ak Hoe, responsible for planning and promotion of performing arts. She later directed and operated programs in Common Place, a complex cultural space in Myeong-dong, Seoul, such as lectures on humanities, indie music, and gugak. In 2014, she joined the operation team for Namsangol Hanok Village and Seoul Namsan Gugakdang to promote the connection between gugak, performing arts venues, artists and audience, and tradition and tourism. Email