The world is crazy about K-pop and reggae


Monday, June 17, 2019

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In the dynamic music world, two genres have been able to withstand the test of time by maintaining their originality and popularity. These days it is truly unusual to find someone who is completely unfamiliar with k-pop and reggae music. Their recognition is reaffirmed time and time again by sold-out concerts, phenomenal album sales, and cult-like fan bases.

The strength of Reggae

The world began embracing reggae as a genre in the 1990s during the era of Jimmy Cliff and arguably reggae's biggest star, Bob Marley. Its ground-breaking legacy has since been cemented in history with its inscription on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in November 2018.

Reggae is popularly known for its delivery of social and political criticisms over light, off-beat rhythms using lyrics which inspire love and encourage self-actualisation. The strength of the messages is so far-reaching that decades after the death of Bob Marley, 800 people of various religious backgrounds gathered in Israel and sang one of his greatest hits, One Love, in three different languages as a show of unity.

Recently, in the city of Kingston, Grammy award-winning reggae artiste Buju Banton performed his first headline show since being released from prison after an eight-year sentence. The show attracted an estimated 40,000 people from around the world and resulted in a significant increase in tourist arrivals to the island, added revenue, booked out hotels and Airbnbs, — showing the power of the genre and its importance to Jamaica's economic growth.

Interestingly, reggae music has influenced Korean artistes as well. The South Korean duo band Skull and Haha has steadily built a career in reggae and currently boasts musical collaborations with popular reggae artistes like Stephen Marley and Beenie Man. The unique work of Skull and Haha in reggae music is enthusiastically acclaimed in both Korea and Jamaica so much so that the duo's work has been featured on popular Jamaican music charts, and when on the island they have been invited to do television interviews and deliver musical performances.

The value of K-pop

Contemporary K-pop can be traced back to the early 1990s with musical groups like Highfive of Teenagers (HOT) and Tong Vfang Xien Qi (TVXQ). Since then its popularity has skyrocketed to the extent that K-pop artistes have ranked number one on Forbes' Korea Power Celebrity List a total of seven times since 2010.

Carrying the K-pop torch in the 21st century are groups like EXO and Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS), both of which have a recreated multi-cultural flair. BTS, in particular, has a cult-like following popularly referred to as “The Army”. The celebrated group is no stranger to sold-out concerts and overcrowded fan events. In fact, BTS's concert at Wembley Stadium, which accommodates roughly 90,000 people, sold out in a mere 90 minutes, making them the first-ever Asian artistes to do so.

The positive messages delivered through K-pop music are internationally recognised. In November 2017, BTS launched their 'Love Myself' campaign with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which support love and better living conditions for all. The group is also affiliated with UNICEF's #ENDviolence campaign aimed at ensuring children and teens in the world lead safe and healthy lives without fear of violence. This is in harmony with Jamaica's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade's statement that a priority area for government action is combating violence against children and improving the protection of the rights of children.

In 2018, BTS made history by becoming the first K-pop group invited to speak at the United Nations. The group's leader Kim Nam Jun, also known as RM, delivered a heartfelt message on self-love in support of the launch of Generation Unlimited, a campaign to ensure every young person is involved in education, training or employment by 2030. He stressed that, “No matter who you are, where you are from, your skin colour, your gender identity, just speak yourself. Find your name and find your voice by speaking yourself.”

K-pop and Jamaica

Despite South Korea being approximately 13,473 km away from Jamaica, the K-pop wave has breached Jamaican shores. Last September the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Jamaica hosted its annual K-Lovers' Party and Talent Competition and its inaugural Korean Language Speech Competition. The events were well-attended by young Jamaicans who openly expressed their love for Korean culture by singing along to popular K-pop tracks in the Korean language, dancing to the music, and participating in the two competitions. It was surprising to see the display of talent, particularly because there are not many places to learn Hangul, the Korean language, in Jamaica. The events represented the growing interest in Korean culture among the Jamaican youth.

In response to this clear increase in curiosity the embassy encouraged the hosting of a Korean language class at The University of the West Indies, Mona. A visiting professor from South Korea will be delivering lectures about Korean language and beyond, starting September 2019. It is my hope that K-pop will be used to spread hope and love to the Jamaican youth, and I look forward to seeing larger crowds at the upcoming events. In the words of BTS, “Listen to yourself: Speak yourself.”

Young Gyu Lee is charge d'affaires of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Kingston

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