In a world where the international mainstream hip-hop beats of Flo Rida meet the old-fashioned sounds of "janggu," a Korean traditional drum, local fusion pop band SOREA is striving to take its amalgamation of traditional Korean instrumentation and modern music to new heights.
Founded on a musical base of "gugak" (Korean traditional music), SOREA takes traditional Korean instruments such as the gayageum (a zither-like string instrument) and the daegeum (bamboo flute) and mashes them together with modern pop.
"One of the reasons we decided on fusing popular music with gugak is to try to get rid of some of the bias," said SOREA's vocalist XOi during an interview with The Korea Herald at a cafe in Seoul.
"(With) the gugak music that many young Koreans know, (they) tend to think of the music as boring and difficult to listen to," she added. "Every country in the world has its own traditional music and there are always going to be people who think of old-time music as unappealing and irrelevant, so we want to mix the new and old styles and make it relevant."
Although the original SOREA made its debut a decade ago in 2005, the band has reinvented itself over the past year after a number of personnel changes. In an effort to make their fusion sounds reach a wider audience, the members began uploading gugak covers of popular K-pop singles as well as globally mainstream songs onto their YouTube page.
Looking to push the envelope even further, SOREA decided to put its creative capacities to the test and establish a fan-interactive challenge to "give the people what they want."
"We created a fan-based challenge called 'Infinite Challenge,' just like the popular TV show," Taya explained. "Through our Facebook page, fans can post certain song requests or suggestions for releases they want to hear from us. Based on these posts, we select and release a new song every month."
In the band's first challenge, the members were asked to create a gugak fusion rendition of the popular hit K-pop single "Come Back Home," by 2NE1. The video surpassed 5 million views on YouTube and sent SOREA's ambitions off to a running start. The band's most recent challenge had member Taya accepting a fan's challenge to create a "sexy janggu video," performing the world's first janggu remix of Flo Rida's hit hip-hop track, "GDFR."
"The challenges are quite difficult because it's a binding commitment that we have made to our fans. As soon as we decide which one of the challenges are feasible for us to tackle, we then have to immediately start brainstorming and composing, and then of course we have the filming process," said XOi. "It's true that it can be nerve-wracking at times, but it is also very exciting at the same time. We couldn't ask for a better way for us to interact with our fans and also gain new ones."
Despite having already dedicated themselves to their monthly challenges for 10 months, SOREA shows no signs of slowing down and is sticking with its "Infinite Challenge" activities for the foreseeable future.
"It's hard work, but for us we have no end in sight," said the band's producer Moon Ryu. "We will continue to do these challenges as long as we continue to receive requests from fans."
"I think that, compared to other countries, like Latin America and its samba music, Korean music today is not doing enough to incorporate its traditional roots and sounds," the producer continued.
"With the band, we try to encompass the value, spirit and soul of Korean culture and music. We are taking a mix of both traditional instruments and coupling it with contemporary music to try and create a unique synergy that not only feels relatable for Koreans, but for listeners from all over the world. This band is a cultural act as much as it is a musical act ― this will be the next phase for what I consider to be the new hallyu."