"Although times and generations move on, our cultural codes hide in our DNA.” Sounds faintly nebulous, but to give the man credit, Kim Duk Soo would probably know. In 1978, seeking to reinvigorate a largely unvaried musical tradition, he founded his four-man drumming troupe: Samul Nori. Today, he is not only a household name in South Korea (a friend from Seoul squeals hilariously at news of an interview), but widely recognised as one of its top cultural figures and a global ambassador for Korean performing arts, which, let’s face it, are probably a smidgeon underrepresented. Indeed, Samul Nori the group has given birth to samul nori the genre; it’s the Walkman of four-drum Korean musicianship.

Any victim of GCSE Music will recall the mind-numbingly turgid lessons on African drumming, delivered invariably by befuddled teachers utterly unfamiliar with anything musical east of Vienna. Barring a minority of enthusiasts, Brits tend to be uninterested in music originating from outside the Anglosphere. It’s these people Kim wants to reach when he performs in Cambridge next month for the 800th Anniversary celebrations.

He’s done a remarkable job reaching out to them so far. Since its genesis, samul nori has gone global, with numerous hobby groups and societies around the world. It’s something Kim has inspired, and he’s proud of it. “Samul nori,” he informs me, “has sparked a renaissance in all kinds of Korean traditional performing arts”.

Samul nori performances, with their leaping dancers and spectacular streamer-hats, are as visually striking as they are percussive. Clasping an hourglass-shaped janggu between his legs, a seated Kim flails away furiously, hands blurring astonishingly at moments as they dart from left to right around the drum. He describes it as akin to a kind of trance, but it’s clear he’s aware enough to relish his music; his face frequently breaks into an ecstatic smile along with the rhythm’s ebb and flow. Either side of him, fellow troupers leap and twirl as they pound away at their own instruments, streamers spiralling about madly, heads jaunting from side to side.

The enthusiasm and talent come from a lifetime’s dedication. “From a very young age,” Kim recalls, “I was surrounded by Korean traditional performing artists.” At seven, he received the President’s Award at a National Folk Music Contest, earning him the pressure-loaded moniker of ‘Child Prodigy of the Drums’. Entering the Seoul Traditional Music and Performing Arts School, he studied under a number of reputable masters, before founding Samul Nori.

Kim has earned a reputation as a moderniser of rural music, which he doesn’t dispute. “I felt the need to reorganize this music. Performance venues have changed and multiplied over the years and therefore increasingly samul nori was performed indoors”. The music itself is drawn from shaman rituals and steeped in elemental philosophy: the sounds of the different instruments embody different weather patterns, and the timbres of metal and leather instruments represent the heavens and the earth respectively. For Kim, his music’s roots are inescapably relevant, even as a recent genre. “Samul nori incorporates and represents our history, nature, life, and most importantly, it contains Korean spirituality.”

This isn’t his first gig in England; he’s performed at the Royal Albert Hall, and regularly appears at the Edinburgh Festival. And what about his upcoming Cambridge performance? “I hope that my performances will increase students’ curiosity and understanding.” His enthusiasm for samul nori seems to be exceeded only by his determination to witness others enjoy it.

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