Quiet Sensation Jang Sa-ik Still Pulls In the Crowds

      October 29, 2008 10:25

      Jang Sa-ik
      Jang Sa-ik

      The next concert by late bloomer Jang Sa-ik in November is already sold out. Many of his now middle-aged fans are trying to get their hands on tickets by any available means, and those who have managed to get tickets are trying to get better seats. The 3,022 seater main hall of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts will be packed with Jang fans for three days from Nov. 8.

      Since his first concert at the ripe age of 45 in a 100-seater theater in the Hongik University area in 1994 that drew 800 people over two days, Jang has been giving sold-out concerts for 14 years. He does not even make television appearances, and his music is rarely heard in the radio. Then what can explain his enormous popularity?

      "I know the answer better than anybody else," Jang told the Chosun Ilbo at his home in Hongji-dong, Seoul on Monday. "A song is audio, not video. When people hear my songs, they actually feel that I am speaking to them. It's all about communication. In most cases, when people go to a concert, they enjoy it at the moment, but on their way home they wonder what songs they listened to. But my songs are riveting because they always touch people at the core."

      "Those who debuted at the same time with me -- Seo Tai-ji, Kim Kun-mo and H.O.T -- all once sold millions of albums. But the time has changed. The young minds are fickle and they change their tastes every day. No matter how hard we try to appeal visually to young people, we could never catch up with them. Music is not about how we perform but what we sing. I expressed the frustration I felt in my mid-forties in the song 'Brier Flower,' and made 'Cough' after losing my father to lung cancer. I draw sympathy from people as I sing about truth in life -- joy, anger, sorrow and happiness."

      He knows the reason for his popularity. While listening to Jang's music, his fans imagine their fathers humming and singing while working at the farm. They smell the corn their mothers cooked. The feeling of home gives them the energy and courage to survive each day of hardship. "Who can console people in times of national and global crisis? It is our job to do it. Us, the gisaengs (literally, a female Korean entertainer) and the shamans," said Jang, "What I mean by gisaeng is those who breathe life into other people, as gi means to rise and saeng means life."

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