Release Date: 17 June 2016
Jambinai’s instrumental music is coloured by Bomi Kim’s fiddle-like haegum, Ilwoo Lee’s guitar and piri (a Korean flute made of bamboo) and Eun Youg Sim’s geomungo, a Korean zither. They met studying traditional music at Korea’s National University of Arts, and found they were united by a desire to present such music in a new way, “to communicate with the ordinary person who doesn’t listen to Korean traditional music,” says Lee, the band’s principal writer. This makeover, however, eschews previous Korean modernists, who Lee says have used western classical music or jazz, for a molten fusion of metal, rock and experimental sound. “We’re darker than other Korean traditional bands,” Lee adds, with considerable understatement.
Understandably, Jambinai have shocked Korean audiences unused to the kind of intensity and adventurism that the trio have made their own. Yet their debut album Différance won Best Crossover Album at the 2013 Korean Music Awards (they were also nominated for Best Jazz & Crossover Performance), which the band used as a springboard for several overseas tours, as a quintet with Jihoon Ok (bass) and Jae Hyuk Choi (drums). Reviewing Jambinai at London’s K-Music festival in 2015, The Guardian described the band as “thrilling, unexpected and perfectly controlled,” noting their mixture of “atmospheric pieces with bursts of furious energy, with constant changes of mood and volume.”
The inspiration for Jambinai’s music taps into the feelings of anger and isolation felt by a younger generation suspicious of the conservative forces that seek to control them. ‘Deus Benedicat Tibi’, for example, was inspired by the ‘Dae Chui Ta’, a piece of Korean traditional martial music “written for the king when he marches down the street,” Lee explains. “Nowadays, especially in Korea, many give up their dreams because life gets worse every day. We have the world’s highest suicide rate. Our song expresses a person who overcomes all hardship and suffering. I dedicate this song to the people who live in pain, to say, ‘You are the king in your own life’.”
Music this rousing and beautiful, rising and subsiding in epic fashion, will doubtless trigger a flood of intense or even apocalyptic images. Yet Jambinai also represent a positive force, resisting the old ways and reinventing the future.