On Tuesday afternoon, a special performance took place on the streets of Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, sending cheerful messages to passersby, mostly office workers at nearby buildings.
Ma Hak-jeong, 36, who started her musical career as a vocalist in a jazz orchestra but now performs as a soloist, began her performance with IU's "My Old Story."
Ma considered quitting her work as a vocalist during the COVID-19 pandemic when strict social distancing measures meant there were no opportunities to perform. Yet, music was her only hope, she said.
"During the pandemic, I worked on songs with cheerful lyrics, which gave me a lot of emotional support. Likewise, for those who may have been hit with hard times, I hope that my songs will encourage them," said Ma.
In a sweet yet husky voice, Ma continued with two more covers of K-pop songs and her own song, "Cheer Up." Ma recorded "Cheer Up" as a member of C-Clef. Although the band failed to gain attention, "Cheer Up" did score some success in 2019 when it was used in a TV commercial for Bacchus, an energy drink. The lyrics of "Cheer Up" were dedicated to working women who juggle raising children with working, Ma explained.
The performance was part of the 2023 Seoul Street Performance: Guseok Guseok Live, organized by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. With a budget of 1.35 billion won ($1 million), the city provides artists with opportunities to perform while presenting cultural experiences to the public.
In the Donuimun Museum Village, near the Gwanghwamun Square, a traditional Korean instrument player took to the stage. "Haeguem" player Eunhan performed Kim Dae-myung's “In Front of the Post Office in Autumn” and the Carpenters' “Top of the World” at the request of her fans.
Eunhan introduces herself as a modern musician who promotes the many charms of haeguem. Impressed by her friends' performance of "Amazing Grace" on the haegum, she also took up the instrument, Eunhan explained.
"People usually regard haeguem as an instrument for sad gugak pieces. But, the haegum has many different aspects that people will also find attractive," Eunhan said.
The performance included "A Piece of Spring," "Traces of Summer," "The Path of Winter" and "The Day, After July 7th," which Eunhan wrote in the style of jazz and new-age music, as well as in a mix of the two genres. The performance marked the premiere for "The Day, After July 7th."
The performance also invited a jazz duo, Grooveus, composed of saxophonist and vocalist Han Hun-sik and keyboardist and vocalist Park Ji-yun. Han and Park, a married couple, originally started Grooveus as a jazz orchestra with 12 sessions but the other players left to pursue other work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a bustling audience of dozens of people -- mostly parents with children -- Grooveus performed covers of popular pop numbers such as Earth, Wind and Fire's “September” and Cho Yong-pil's “Now I Wish It Was So.”
"We were thinking whether we should give up on Grooveus and find another job. It felt like all the beautiful things we had admired disappeared when the pandemic came," said Park.
"However, we believed that our dreams and hopes would still exist in our minds although we could not see them. We hoped to share this belief with others who might struggle like us. We concluded the best way forward was also music, because that's what we do best."
First released in 2019, Grooveus' "Fly Away" was well-received by the young audience thanks to its soft, joyous melody and rhythm. As the audience shouted "Encore!" Grooveus responded with their latest song, "Don't Get Me Wrong." Grooveus will release its seventh digital single "Wonderful World in You" in December featuring "Don't Get Me Wrong."
There was no tip box in sight, although the city program does not prohibit tipping. "I feel so loved by fans and the audience who stood on the street and enjoyed the performance in this cold, cloudy weather," said one of the musicians. The weather Tuesday marked a high of 10 degrees Celsius and a low of 4 C.
The 2023 Seoul Street Performance: Guseok Guseok Live runs through Nov. 30 in different areas of Seoul, with 150 teams of various performers taking part. Visit the event organizer’s official website at www.seoulbusking.com for details on schedules and locations.