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Folk songs of Jeju Island

#Sounds of Korea l 2019-03-20

Sounds of Korea

Farming has gone high-tech in recent years, with one machine capable of doing the work of hundreds of people. But farming is still labor intensive and time-consuming – tilling the land, fertilizing, seeding and more. On Jeju Island, there is extra work involved for farmers. Being a volcanic island, Jeju’s soil is largely comprised of volcanic rocks, incapable of holding water and unsuitable for growing rice. It is common to see fields surrounded by walls made with the rocks unearthed from the ground. Also, seeds are prone to being blown away by the island’s dry and gusty spring winds. 

To overcome these natural obstacles, Jeju farmers do drive oxen or horses over the field to stamp down seeds after they have been planted. This is a farming practice unique to Jeju Island and there is even a song written about it called “Field Stamping Song.” Here’s Kim Ju-ok with an accompanying chorus singing the Jeju folk song “Field Stamping Song.” 

Music 1: Field Stamping Song/ Sung by Kim Ju-ok and a chorus

Stamping the fields on Jeju Island takes about 15 days. If it rains soon after the stamping, the ground would harden too much for the seeds to sprout or for the roots to grow deep, ruining the entire year’s work. The natural scenery of the island may be stunning, but life there was fraught with hard labor and sometimes disappointments. 

But this didn’t deter Jeju islanders from creating their own unique culture and practices, and one of their most distinguishing features are their folk songs. 

Although such music was largely influenced by that of the mainland, the unique dialect of Jeju and the stories of its residents have led to a wholly unique genre of folk songs exclusive to Jeju Island 

Now we’re going to listen to a song titled “Sancheonchomok산천초목” which means the mountains, rivers, grass, and trees. This cheerful song about a spring picnic is sung by a group in a more festive tone, but today’s rendition, sung by Kang Kwon-soon, features a slower beat and a more mysterious atmosphere. 

Music 2: Sancheonchomok/ Sung by Kang Kwon-soon

The most widely-known Jeju folk song may be “The Song of Woman Divers.” Woman divers called haenyeo해녀 used to sing this song on their way out to the sea to dive for clams, abalones, sea urchins, and what not. They would sing the merry refrain, which goes “Do you live on Ieodo이어도, do you live on Ieodo,” to brave the cold, choppy sea. But singing about Ieodo Island, a mythical place that represents all that Jeju islanders believe to be perfect, suggests a rather bleak reality. Lately, young musicians have adapted a Jeju folk song called “You and Me,” which goes as thus.

You and I have merry fun. It’s so fun day and night.

The bird that cries in the morning cries because it’s hungry.

The bird that cries in the evening cries because it misses a loved one. 

That moon, the round moon goes over the mountain.

But when can I go see my beloved? 

It’s a lighthearted song about longing for your loved one. Today’s version is a new arrangement of “You and Me” performed by the ChungAng Culture Band One.

Music 3: You and Me/ Performed by ChungAng Culture Band One

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