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Beyond K-pop: Creative economy
Publication Date : 18-06-2014
In the classical world, Korean musicians secured their reputation a long time ago. Names such as Kyung Wha-chung (violinist) and Isang Yun (composer) are among the best in the international classical music scene. But of course more recently, people across the globe have caught on to the K-Pop phenomenon.
Who would have imagined that the Korean kids could completely immerse themselves in African-American pop music genre and reproduce it in such away to become adominant product in the international music scene.
The subaltern speaks! This is the academic jargon that can be used to explain how the K-Pop musical phenomenon could occur within a Western cultural hegemonised world.
Many outdated academic theories argue that the colonised group of society (the subaltern) can only consume cultural products coming from the West without any resistance and unproductively copy them for local usage. The K-Pop phenomenon indeed has countered this argument.
For this reason, I think it is important for us, especially from the perspective of the creative economy, to understand the internal dynamic of the Korean music scene within its sociocultural and politico-economic contexts.
After my second visit to Korea a couple of days ago, I can see clearly that Korea has managed to create the necessary infrastructure and mechanism to make its musical scene work nationwide.
Behind this is Korea’s accomplishment in building people’s mind-sets and awareness about the role of music in their daily lives As a result, music consumption in society is very high, be it Korean traditional, pop, rock, jazz or classical music.
This consumption happens through various sociocultural means including music schools, live performances and media such as radio and television.
Through these means we can learn, listen and watch all the aforementioned musical genres. This means that there is a market for any kind of music in Korea.
So, if you live in Korea you will have the opportunity to learn, listen and watch the best products of all kinds of music genres including traditional, pop, rock, jazz and classical music made locally.
With such a high level of musical consumption, it is only logical that Korea was able to develop the manufacture of musical instruments and export them across the globe with brands such as Kawaii.
Yet the local demand for a high quality of music and musicians made Korean musical products able to compete with the more
advanced industrial countries such as Japan, Germany and USA.
K-Pop is only a tip of the iceberg. Yes it’s phenomenal, but it only tells a partial story about how the Korean music scene and its sociocultural and politico-economic institutions work to position Korean as one of the leading musical industries today.
K-Pop is only the beginning of the Korean expansion in the international music scene in the near future. There is more to come, soon. I believe that the Korean government as well as its people is quite aware about this possibility and they work hand in hand to reach this target.
Through this high consumption, and of course appreciation, of various musical genres emerged world-class music festivals such as Jarasum International Jazz Festival (Gapyeong), Gwangju World Music Festival (Gwangju) and Jeonju International Sori Festival (Jeonju). All these festivals take place in small towns, but can attract in excess of 250,000. The impact of these festivals is also phenomenal for the local tourism industry.
Jarasum International Jazz Festival in Gapyeong city, for instance, is one of the best examples of the Korean festival’s success story. Jarasum is a small “island” inside the city of Gapyeong. When Jae-jin In initiated this festival 10 years ago people thought he was insane because this island flooded when it rained.
But the festival became successful and the government developed the entire city into a tourist destination area.
Today, the Jarasum International Jazz Festival is able to bring 250,000 local and foreign tourists to Gapyeong city every year.
This festival has put Korea in the strong position within the international jazz scene that has a significant impact on its creative industry.
Gwangju city has also been assigned by the government to have a substantial role in the international, especially Asian, world music scene. In addition to the Gwangju World Music Festival, the city is also finishing a huge compound called Asian Culture Complex. The goal of this project is obvious — to position Korea as the center of Asia.
So everything has to start with a solid foundation. This is what we, as a Third World country, need to understand. If we want to develop our creative industry and be able to produce export-quality creative industry products we have to start from the basics: set up the mind-set for the importance of local creative industry products in our daily lives; increase consumption of creative products in society; set up a solid creative industry education and encourage demand for high quality products, be they music, performing arts, digital arts, film, crafts or fashion.
We can certainly copy the West like Korea has done but only with the goal to set up all the infrastructure and institutions to make the creative economy machine work nationwide. This is what K-Pop is all about.
The Korean music industry is not only copying African-American musical products but also selling them back to the Western and international market to reap upward of US$80 billion.
Again, the subaltern speaks!
(The writer is a professor of ethnomusicology and has been traveling to South Korea to learn about the country’s