Posted on April 20, 2018
# Please introduce the band member sitting next to you.
Kiwan : Such a hard question from the beginning… This is Yorm Han. She is a voice artist, musician and musicologist, engaging in various fields. She’s very distinguished, capable of so many things, and the lead vocalist of AASSA. There are many different characteristics in her voice, and she has a good command of how to acclimate her voice to different occasions. Yorm is so productive as a musician that she motivates people around her. She’s the youngest among us, but also the most mature. Amidou and I are often reckless and immature, but Yorm, for sure, is the most mature. And also very busy.
Yorm : As you may know, Kiwan Sung has been active in the music scene for quite a long time, and with that experience behind him, he is now successfully performing as the leader of AASSA. Although he said that I’m the most mature one in the group, he is actually the one who takes care of so many things that happen in our group, and there must be some pressure on him. But he still says things so gently, and along with Amidou he creates a joyful atmosphere within the group. Usually I tend to be pretty rigid, but he helps me to harmonize with the group. He is playing an essential role as a musician, and as everyone knows, he is a distinguished writer. I’m learning a lot from him in that respect. I’m learning, enjoying and socializing well with these cool people.
# Have you read any of Kiwan Sung’s books?
Yorm : I’ve read all of his poetic works.
Kiwan : Really?
Yorm : Yes. I like the poet Kiwan Sung more than you may expect.
# Which one was your favorite?
Yorm : I liked [ㄹ] the most.
# How did you first meet each other?
Yorm : Kiwan and I first met when we were having some booze in Hongdae… We met in late December, and since the next day was my birthday, we hung out together. Things got warm in the room and everyone was having a really fun time. I was so elated that I started singing, and luckily he remembered that. Later he asked me to sing for several of his projects. Apparently we made a good match, and one day he suggested I join AASSA. It’s good if we can help each other, and I thought it would be a lot of fun. Please introduce Amidou.
Kiwan : I first saw Amidou several years ago. There’s an instrument that Amidou enjoys playing called the balafon. I saw him playing that instrument and I was astonished to see how much pleasure he seemed to be getting from it. Thoughts like, “now here is a real African musician”, and, “how did he end up coming to Korea?” lingered in my mind. When I told Yorm that I wanted to incorporate an African musical style, she concurred, and so we needed a real African musician. That’s how we got to meet Amidou. There’s a samba school here called ‘Escola Alegria.’ It’s a community-type place where they deal with Brazilian music, samba and bossa nova, and when I asked the leader if he could introduce me to a fine musician, he introduced me to Amidou. When I let Amidou listen to our demo track, he told me that it would fit well with his musical style and that he wanted to join. I guess he wanted to present something new to Korean audiences, since most Koreans expect the traditional, passionately drum-beating kind of African music. As he was looking for a new way to present African music, I asked him to join the group, and... here we are.
# Please tell us how you started music, and artists you were influenced by.
Kiwan : It’s such an old story, and it’s actually… not very hard to remember. I bet Yorm’s story and mine will be different. I was an amateur music lover who simply loved listening to music. I had played the guitar since middle school, played in the school band and didn’t make it in the MBC Gangbyeon Song Contest. I had admired music for so long… it’s like this odd phenomenon when you love someone so much, and suddenly you realize that you are getting closer to that someone. Of course that’s a fortunate occasion. Music was like that for me. I loved music so much, but I admired it from a distance. I think music felt so sympathetic towards me that it eventually accepted me. When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by people whom I had once admired. I’m still getting closer and closer to music, yet it still feels distant. I wish I could get closer.
Yorm : You didn’t tell us the artists you were influenced by.
Kiwan : Oh yes, influence. Well I was influenced by a handful of artists, and Mr. Kang Tae-Hwan pops into my mind. I’m talking about Kang Tae-Hwan who played free jazz. In high school after watching him perform, I thought “now that’s what you call experiment and art!” Indeed, he influenced me a lot. Also, when I was young, when I saw guitarists like Jimi Hendrix picking guitar strings as if they were rubber bands, I thought it was amazing… As for albums, I would pick a compilation album by Sung Hwa Choi of Deulgukhwa called ‘We Show Song.’ It’s an album that showed the direction of Deulgukhwa before their formation, and that album also influenced me a lot.
Yorm : In my case, I have loved singing since I was a baby. Perhaps that’s why my parents thought that I should do music. It took me a while to find an opportunity to start music, until teacher at my elementary school suggested I do so. At first I wanted to study Western choral music or classical voice, but eventually I switched my mind to studying Korean classical music.
Kiwan : That’s a huge shift.
Yorm : I know, right? Actually my teacher affected me profoundly. I’ve been singing minyo (Korean folk songs) since I was young, and throughout my middle and high school years I began studying various musical instruments and voice. It’s quite funny to see that I’m currently doing various things other than Korean classical music. As for influential artists, there wouldn’t be much to say regarding Korean classical music… I won’t even hesitate to say Joni Mitchell. I learned from her music, for instance, the musical directions I should take as a female artist, using melodies and forms, and placing and narrating music appropriately. She influenced me in the way I sing too. Bjork, also. In the case of Bjork, she is apt at dragging out her inner self to express it appropriately in various fields, and that directed me as well. I once wanted to blend pop and jazz elements in my music, and Amy Winehouse’s music affected me very much. Our team handles blues music a lot, and Nina Simone and Etta James influenced me in that area. I think as a vocalist, I tend to listen to those types of music.
# Your album title ‘Très Bonbon’ means ‘very sweet’ in French. But not all of your songs sound sweet. How did you come up with that title?
Kiwan : But I do think the overall flow sounds joyful. There are some sorrowful songs, and some touching lyrics, but our intention was to send a message about harmonizing. That’s why we didn’t want our album to sound so damp. There were several candidates for the album title. Someone remarked that the sound of the French was pretty, although they didn’t know the meaning of the word… but actually, we ran a survey. There were a couple of literary-sounding names, and one of them was ‘kellen,’ which means ‘one’ in West Africa. We came up with that word because it’s our first album and the sense of uniting meant a lot to us, but we felt it sounded like bragging, so we forgot about it. As you might guess, the word ‘bonbon’ means both ‘candy’, and ‘good good’ in French. So ‘très bonbon’ makes the phrase ‘very good.’ And if we combine the words, ‘très bonbon’ can also mean ‘very candy.’
Yorm : It’s very candy.
Kiwan : Yes, well that doesn’t make any sense. Amidou speaks French, and he likes phrases like ‘très bonbon.’ It fits well with Amidou, so we settled on that.
# AASSA’s lyrics utilize five different languages; Korean, English, French, Siamou and Bambara. Do you expect those languages to give any specific sensation?
Kiwan : Guess we’ll need to answer that five times! You go ahead and explain the Korean and English, I’ll do the rest.
Yorm : In the case of the Korean language, actually, Kiwan almost always sets up the framework, and I have fun putting the words in and out. We do not construct lyrics by trying to deliver a specific meaning. I’ve said this once in another place, but I have a tendency to ‘autocomplete’ the lyrics. Even if you put something like an auto text entry, if it sounds interesting, I think it’s okay if it makes a fine match. I work in that way. And for Korean, it just seems to serve as a guide that people can immediately follow in terms of the larger framework. It’s similar with English. I think it plays the role of fusing the melody that can sometimes sound a bit unnatural when delivered in Korean.
Kiwan : First, I don’t understand Siamou and Bambara. Although Amidou speaks a little bit of Korean, if it comes to the lyrics, he’ll hear it as a sound more than a language. Just as we hear African languages as a sound. It’s like a sound layer. If the lyrics say, “we broke up so easily”, Koreans will take it literally. However, some people can understand it in a totally different context by thinking of it as, “I guess they had a fun time”. The languages might work quite differently, and we had a fun time searching them out. We don’t know the meanings. If we hear “iyaim-emaie” we write it as we hear it. Just write it if you like it. Like that.
Yorm : Ask after writing it.
Kiwan : When I asked for the meaning of the word later, it had a bad meaning.
Yorm : It means something like “we broke up”, but we heard it as ‘AASSA.’
Kiwan : Amidou laughed, because we had combined the words in the opposite way. He said Africans would laugh when they heard it. So we also realized that the song was developed in a completely different direction. However, as a result, the meaning did not seem to be important… well it obviously is, but I think it is more important for words to stick on the tongue. So the question is, do words come out of our heads, or do they come out of our tongue after ringing our vocal cords. Probably both, but I think both of us preferred the latter.
# When writing lyrics, do all members gather around to write spontaneously?
Kiwan : There is a part that we do. Usually, my basic attitude towards writing lyrics is to write them down. That’s probably the poet’s basic attitude. I do not invent words, but rather write down my feelings toward the energy flow of the world, and I think that how well I perceive such things decides my degree of skill as a poet. I even once wrote down what my daughter said--it is actually used on this album. There are lyrics on the track ‘Twins’ that go, “the streetlight is the sun of the night, stars are the children of the moon”. That’s what my daughter told me when she was five. I think writing down is fundamental. You can write anything down.
Yorm : That’s the same for me when I do my personal work. Either I write down what I hear, or I collect words from menus since I do not know when I’ll need them. As I said before, I’m used to autocompleting the lyrics. If I try to make meaning, as I found out, it is more likely to go off track. Either too heavy or excessive. I think the meaning comes naturally.
Source: Chili Music Korea
# Is there any specific keyword that you wish for people to use when they define AASSA’s music?
Kiwan : I would simply say ‘one.’ AASSA consists of one African and two Koreans. But I can be very different from Yorm. Our points of view, depending on different generations and music tastes, can be quite different. Nevertheless, we are ‘one.’ It is now the condition of our lives. Because these days we are all interconnected through the internet network. It is the ‘one’ which no one can escape, but nobody knows each other. I think it is a part of the bigger whole called ‘network.’ So we are indeed ‘one’... or perhaps, ‘nevertheless, one.’
Yorm : I think it’s fair to use the phrase ‘near and far.’ There were people who first felt our type of music was very exotic. But after listening to our music, people became curious and enjoyed it. It’s near and far, but it doesn’t sound like ‘mine’ if I describe it as ‘near.’
# Kiwan has been described as ‘avant-garde,’ or ‘experimental,’ and as I know, Yorm is currently working on a different project with experimental music. Perhaps the common keyword could be ‘experimental.’ Could AASSA’s music also be one of your ‘experiments’?
Kiwan : It’s similar to ‘near and far,’ like what we just talked about… If you look closely at our music, you may think “uh, what is this?” But I think our music is closer to pop music than experimental music. I think I enjoy connoting such stuff. Although some might say that our music is experimental for sure, I’d rather say that it is a bit experimental when you listen to it. I think that’s the intriguing part. It sounds familiar, but not too easy.
Yorm : It really depends on how you define ‘experiment’. I bet if you ask people who do experimental music, they will give you a similar answer. They won’t say, “this time I’ll make a kickass experiment” or “I’ll propose to you, baam!” right to your face. Every project may be an experiment, challenge or task to someone, or it could be a totally original creation. We did not set our minds on creating some new stuff. It’s just that I was onto something, and when someone comes along, we look out for a new way, to see if it’s fun or not.
Kiwan : As you know, I’ve been in bands for so long. I played in 3rd Line Butterfly for 17 years, and three years now in AASSA. I made an album in 1993 with a band called Tomato, and if I count that, how long has it been? Anyway, I love playing in a band. Music experiments seem to fall a little behind the experiments that happen between people. If you want to be in a band, you have to meet and form a relationship, to such a degree that it becomes a strange one. We are family, business partners and colleagues all at the same time. It’s such a strange relationship, but we can create an intriguing sound within such a relationship. A fine guitarist and a bassist working together doesn’t mean they’ll end up creating music like Nirvana’s. Despite being able to play a few chords, the sound of that relationship still comes out. I think that is a marvelous leap. When people form a relationship and develop it as cooperatives, we think, “uhh, ok…” But when they start creating a sound, that is a different story. That very relationship is a factor that helps sustain bands, and it’s a lot of fun. Amidou, Yorm and I are different from each other, but the fact that we make albums and perform together; I’d say that itself can be an experiment. This sounds like an animal experiment all of a sudden...
Yorm : A medical experiment…
# Kiwan has said that the roots of pop music lie in Africa, after visiting Africa to study the origin of music…
Kiwan : What? The origin?
Yorm : There it comes, the origin.
Kiwan : I can assert categorically that any music in the world originated in Africa. It’s clear that the pop music people listen to all over the world is based in Africa. Because if there had been no slavery in America, African rhythms may have stayed in Africa. White people started manipulating those African sentiments, that eventually evolved into rock and pop music. Black people have been doing their own thing, and K-pop also seems to have a root in African music. At that time, when I went to Africa, it wasn’t like I brought along my cane and sought out the ‘origin’ of music. Actually, I was working for a program called ‘World Music Tour’ on EBS FM, and when I first heard native African music, I became fond of it, to the extent that I thought I should go to Africa.
Actually, I don’t enjoy traveling that much. It’s very tiresome, and when I do travel I tend to stay in one place. But that visit to Africa, was the only trip that I really wanted to take. The rest was all either for work or a gig. I went there with the idea of experiencing the native sentiments, but it was such an overwhelming experience, apart from the music. A sense of cultural shock and enlightenment. I think that experience seems to be holding me still now, with what I felt from that trip. I felt a great irony. To experience the cutting edge, I think we should go to places like Africa or Mongolia, rather than places like New York or Tokyo. Because I see that there is a future in it. The cutting edge symbolizes the forefront, so it should be close to the future. That was the sort of enlightenment that I got. I think sometimes, we should go back in time to experience the future. Have you seen the movie ‘Black Panther’?
# Some contemporary composers seem to be deliberately exploring so-called third world music for their own reasons, and sometimes experience dramatic changes. Perhaps these kinds of music seem to have a kind of ‘spirit,’ beyond simply new stimuli. I wonder what African music means to you guys.
Kiwan : I think Yorm and I may have different thoughts on this. I’m curious how she might feel about it.
Yorm : I think what you just said is a matter of one view of the world versus another view of the world, rather than music versus music. There may be a conflict when a familiar world meets unfamiliar one; it certainly will not blend instantly. So I think there was a common denominator among us called ‘music’ that functioned as a painkiller when entering another world. I accepted African music as a part of my world view because it came naturally, and did not rule anything out binarily like, “this is this and that is that”. Keeping to our personal timeline and taking good care of it, and respecting each other, not interfering or forcing each other. But conclusively creating harmony somehow. I think that’s it.
Kiwan : However, sometimes there are people who check their own music. If you look at people like Steve Reich, they say that they found the ultimate inspiration of minimalism in Africa. There are people who do that, and Africans can just keep doing their own thing. Yorm is someone who had been studying music of distinguished history. That’s her musical way, so even if she doesn’t do anything else, she is already exceptional. Is not that Yorm or Amidou or our whole team think that African music is so awesome, but I think it’s fun to cooperate with people like them.
Source: Chili Music Korea
# Are you interested in something other than African music? Is there something else AASSA might pursue?
Kiwan : Well I… would be satisfied if we did this well. I bet Yorm will have many concerns. There are different ways of singing in different countries.
Yorm : In terms of singing style, I’m interested in Mongolian music, where one person can create two voices. I’m only interested because I heard that technique exerts a lot of stress on the vocal cords. In terms of other music genres or cultures, I’m interested in hispanic culture. Like Spanish music, or Portuguese vocal music called ‘Fado.’ I think I’m attracted to dense voodoo-type music. If I could pick a form that we can all do, it would be ‘Butoh’ from Japan. I have a lot of interest in those kinds of music.
# Just like the album you compiled from poetry or your lectures from last year, called <Humanities of Sound> - I think Kiwan perceives music in many different directions and attempts to work them out. Was there any new manner of approach in AASSA’s music, or did you want listeners to perceive it in any specific way?
Kiwan : I rather had a point of view in mind for the listeners to avoid. I don’t think it’s right for them to perceive our music as a sort of folk music. Definitely not. Folk music reminds one of one’s grandmother, or similar sentiments. It will then become a natural monument, or something…
Yorm : It is likely to become a stuffed specimen.
Kiwan : A sort of curiosity? It will become something about which people say, “Wow, that is interesting!”, but I don’t think that’s right. We rather want listeners to perceive our music as a part of pop culture, and actually it is. It is not sophisticated.
# How about Yorm? As a person who studied Korean classical music, I would like to know how you feel about world music. When working on AASSA’s music, was there any particular element from Korean classical music that you wanted to imbue it with?
Yorm : Honestly, I don’t think I have any identity as a Korean classical musician. Because to have such an identity itself sounds strange. I wanted to utilize my background in the right place, and that’s visible on tracks like ‘Mife Itingfe’ and ‘Afro Asian Ppongjak.’ After listening to our music, my teachers who taught me Korean classical music often ask me where such a singing technique came from. I then say, “nowhere”. However, when I come across similar sounds, I try to use them. But that’s not actually how Korean classical music works
As I experienced Korean classical music, I was constantly exposed to fusion or crossover types more than anything else. But to be honest, the way they were treated was not very good. Some may think it is fun to do a crossover using Korean classical instruments, and they’ll also think that it is good, but it is actually an exploitation. Such a way of thinking will also create a lazy attitude. It is not good for either the musicians who do it, and people who listen to it, and I didn’t want AASSA to follow a similar track. I know there are some people who say that our music is pedantic, and that gives me some concern. In order to approach people easily, we had many concerns and decided to stay earnest in order to do so. I hope the listeners can get rid of such bias. “It’s a fusion and crossover since they used foreign musical instruments”... In fact, I wish they would get rid of the term ‘world music’ itself. I keep asking myself, “what is the world?”
# On the internet, I saw an article describing Yorm as “Bjork doing Korean classical music”. What do you think about that?
Yorm : Strangely I heard it a lot. I heard someone saying, “If Bjork comes and learns Pansori (Korean classical singing) badly, it might sound like this”. It’s such an honor to hear something like that, and I accept it as a compliment that I’m doing well without losing what I am capable of. But meanwhile, that gives me an odd feeling. My personal works are mostly electronic, but here, it is African music. When I come down after singing, some people say that they felt cold. Our songs are exciting and bring the heat of Africa, so it’s odd to hear that. Whatever I do, I think it naturally comes out as I sing. I’m trying not to discriminate against African, pop, or Bjork’s styles of singing. I think people are quite accurate about that.
# Kiwan and Yorm both seem to have various titles from outside of the band. Aside from your common denominators, musician and director, and titles such as professor, poet, planner or performer… as you pursue your work with AASSA, is there any title that you want to emphasize?
Kiwan : You write in parentheses and write something like this: “Avant-garde artist” or something. I write, “poet comma, musician comma, and member of band AASSA”. I think being a member of AASSA means a lot to me. I’m so happy that I can include “member of band AASSA” in my parentheses, and without it, I’ll simply rusticate. It indeed is a big part of my identity.
Yorm : Every time I change my role, I just try to write appropriate words. Even when I began my career as a singer, I sometimes deliberately excluded those titles. I think I disliked being defined merely as a vocalist. Actually I did not like being trapped by one word. But here in AASSA, not being regulated was my priority.
Kiwan : Artist Yorm has been around for a while, but I think she felt quite unfamiliar with performing on the stage, interacting with audiences, and jamming with other musicians. She had always worked on her computer alone.
Yorm : Honestly, I felt uncomfortable living life as part of a group. It was awkward at first.
Kiwan : She did, but soon her voice started to sound natural and comfortable, then something explosive came out. I often wonder how she will sound the next time round; that kind of curiosity draws me to her voice.
Yorm : A grandmother started to move. After sitting all day in her room.
Kiwan : It’s good that we work together. Such thoughts often pop into my mind.
# What’s your next plan, and is there a certain direction that you wish to pursue through AASSA?
Kiwan : I hope many people show up to our concert on April 28th. We are performing at Veloso at 7, and it is very fortunate that MC Meta is performing as a guest. That guy is a legend, right? MC Meta of Garion. He is a musician whom I admire so much. Although he began his musical career years after I did, there are no musicians like him. He gladly jumped in to be our guest performer. I wanted to offer him some guarantee, but he refused, saying that hip-hop is not about making money. I’m proud to be able to perform with a musician who is so spirited. This time there’ll be a collaboration stage, and MC Meta will show us something of his own. And there’ll be another secret guest. Our concert will be very thorough, so I hope many people come to our show and have an exciting and enthusiastic experience.
But above all, I personally think hip-hop is something huge. The TV program ‘Show Me The Money’ was an important approach to audiences, but also I think the depth and the area hip-hop covers is enormous. We have Amidou and Yorm as well… There’s a musician like MIA right? I wish we could work on experimental music like that… no more rock but hip-hop… that sort of direction of experiment may go well for us, I think. Not about vocal and melodies, but vocals that emphasize rhythm and rap… Music that can be viewed as hip-hop in a larger perspective I guess? Or electronic hip-hop? I’m attracted to that field, and wish I could work on it as soon as possible. That’s our future plan.
Yorm : For me, our concert in April is the top priority. It’ll be nice if many people show up and have an exciting time there. Oh, and more importantly, I heard there’ll be seats for older people… I heard from many people that standing for a long time is strenuous, so this time, they can feel relieved. We won’t stop people from standing, but they’ll also be able to sit down. Personally I’m adapting to group life through AASSA, so it’s a sort of re-socialization. I hope I become good at that. Another good thing I’ve gained through AASSA is that my laugh has gotten broader. I think I became more extroverted as well. As I mentioned before, I avoided singing because I didn’t like being defined solely as a vocalist. However, through AASSA, I’m trying to go back to pop music. I’m focusing more on the aspect of vocals now. It’ll be nice if I could manage them well, so I can extend that momentum to my personal works.
AASSA Concert 'Très Bonbon Show - Reunification'
Date : 4.28 (Sat) 7:30PM
Venue : Hongdae Veloso
Ticket : advance 35,000won / at door 40,000won
Ticket in advance : Interpark Ticket
TRES BONBON [Album]
To find out more about the band, follow the links below:
Interview : Yeonsik Chae, Jieun Park
English Translation : Robin YeongGuk Jo
Edited by : Rock 'N' Rose