How a Group of Foreigners Broke into the Korean Music Scene
I was very fortunate several months ago to meet a group of talented young men who are part of the local Korean music scene here in Jinju, South Korea. These guys, known as Band Como, invited my friend Ginna and I out for drinks after a show, and we’ve been friends ever since. We try to see them when they’re busking around town and we’ve invited them to play at foreigner events that we organize. We had a nice friend/fan thing going, until one day when Ginna decided to up the ante.
Like most of my good stories, this one starts in a bar. I was with Ginna and a group of foreigners at one of our favorite local spots, sitting on the porch, drinking, talking, and admiring the cute bartenders from afar. Ginna, two other girls (both named Sam) and I were talking about Band Como when Ginna said, “You know what? Let’s make our own band and take on Como!” In that moment a new band was formed: Samwich.
Samwich is comprised of two Sams, Ginna, and myself. I am thrilled to say that I am now in a band–so thrilled that I bring up my fame in the Korean music scene in almost every conversation I have. This is mainly due to the fact that I have less musical talent than Beyoncé’s toenail clippings. That being said, I’ll let you guess what my role in the band is with this multiple-choice question:
That’s a lot to handle, and to make matters worse, we put ourselves on an accelerated track and planned to do a show after only two months of practice.
Am I? A) The lead vocalist B) The spoons player C) The Backup Dancer/ Tambourine Specialist D) The Triangle Player/ Kazoo Player/ Rapper
What a combo right? I bet not many people can list on their LinkedIn page that they have Microsoft Word skills, Triangle skills, kazoo skills, and rapping skills. Although I was clearly the band’s triple threat and not so secret weapon, my other band mates had quite a bit on their plates. Ginna, our founder, is our guitar player and lead vocalist. She’s done shows before, but always on her own so she had to learn to play with other people. One Sam knows how to play the piano well, but didn’t have a piano to practice with. She had to find a piano, buy it, move it into her small apartment, and then start practicing. The other Sam decided to play the Cajon drum, an instrument that she had to research, buy, and then teach herself how to play.
That’s a lot to handle, and to make matters worse, we put ourselves on an accelerated track and planned to do a show after only two months of practice. During those two months I was on vacation for 10 days, Ginna for a week, and piano playing Sam was on vacation for 10 days, all at separate times. There was no backing out though, because I hyped up our band so much that all of our friends were waiting for the show–where we would battle Como.
In those two months we spent a lot of late nights talking, laughing, practicing, and wolfing down food when we got a spare moment. After our first practice, Sam turned from her seat at the piano to look at all of us and said, “Now I know why Como practices every day. Practicing is fun!”
We rocked the house and the bar where we played was packed with people. It was nice to look out and see my friends, foreign and Korean, and even my boss, waving to me and smiling.
The week leading up to the show included a lot of last minute practices, putting together ridiculous photos for our backdrops at the show, hammering down instrument details, and making jello shots for our friends/soon-to-be fans.
“We’re not gonna be better than Como,” Ginna said, and we all agreed. “But we’re gonna put on an awesome show.”
The day of the show we were all a bundle of nerves. We ran around trying to get our outfits together on lunch break. We all met out at Ginna’s to get ready.
“It’s just like prom!” I said on our text group chat.
“I hated prom,” one Sam said.
“Whatever, my prom was awesome and this is gonna be even better!” I was just saying that, but it did turn out to be an incredible night. Band Como put on a great show. We rocked the house and the bar where we played was packed with people. It was nice to look out and see my friends, foreign and Korean, and even my boss, waving to me and smiling.
I’ve done a lot of events in Korea, taking part in both the planning and participating side, but this has been my favorite so far. I played with three hard-working, talented girls, and we got to put on a concert for ourselves and our friends. People came up to us afterwards, gushing and asking us when our next show would be.
“I mean, we just wanted to see if this would go okay…” I answered; shocked that so many people enjoyed our performance. This is one of the things I love about being a foreign teacher in South Korea. You could come here and do nothing but teach and stay home. Or, you could meet up with a bunch of cool gals, make a band, and become minor celebrities in the Korean music scene. Okay, you might not become a celebrity, but you’ll probably have a pretty good time. I know I did.