By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
South Korea has always believed in the power of music diplomacy.
Just take a gander at how its has milked the golden cow of K-pop music, winning the love and devotion of millions of fans around the globe with heart-throb-producing boy bands that can rival the likes of One Direction and the Backstreet Boys.
So it was only logical for Seoul to expand its culture bridge-making efforts through a more formal music exchange program known as Arirang, a hands-across-the-water scheme that enlists local artists in other countries to embrace traditional Korean music to create fusion compositions of East-meets-West (and vice versa) masterpieces.
Thus was born the Proyecto Arirang (Arirang Music Competition Project), a Korean-Mexican program that encourages artists on both sides of the Pacific to take up traditional songs from the opposing nation and nationalize them by adaptation to local music styles and to produce a corresponding video to seal the binational friendship.
First begun in 2017 with a musical video of Korean art and culture, the project soon evolved into a video of a Korean-ized version of the Mexican classic “Cielito Lindo.”
The international success of that video led to the creation of first Arirang Concour competition in 2018, which asked Mexican artists to produce Mexicanized versions of the Korean folksong “Arirang.”
Often referred to as the unofficial anthem of Korea, “Arirang” is a traditional love song that dates back more than 600 years.
Twice including on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage roster, “Arirang” has more than 3,600 variations and has been interpreted by artists of all musical genres.
The response in Mexico to the Arirang Concour, which was and still is sponsored jointly by the South Korean Embassy and the Korean Cultural Center, was massive, and resulted in a cumbia version of Arirang that soon went viral on social media worldwide.
By that start of 2020, when the second Arirang Concour was announced, more than 160 videos of Mexicanized “Arirangs” were submitted in virtually every musical genre.
The winning entry was by the three-member, self-proclaimed Arirang Dream Team, led by Mexican composer Enrique Romo and performed by a soprano and pianist duo of Mexican Claudia Cota and South Korean KL Joon, who made the classic Korean folksong into a classical operatic opus.
On Thursday, Oct. 21, South Korean Ambassador to Mexico Suh Jeong-in and Korean Culture Center Director Park Young-doo presented the world premiere of the new bicultural video during a lavish luncheon at Mexico City’s Sheraton María Isabel Hotel, along with a live performance by Cota and Joon of their new artistic creation.
“Music is a bridge that unites cultures and people around the world,” said Suh.
“This project is a way to strengthening the already-strong ties between our two countries, and it comes at a great time, since Mexico and Korea are celebrating the 60th anniversary of our bilateral diplomatic ties this year.”