Kim Kwang Seok – a folk singer still much loved today

Kim Kwang SeokSaharial discovers a folk singer from the 80s.

A few months ago, when I finally got my hands on the special edition of Sung Sikyung’s 6th album, I fell in love with a song called Around Thirty – one of three live additions to the CD. Keen to have it on my Cyworld as a background track, I typed in the song title and found another name attached to it. I found I had ‘discovered’ Kim Kwang Seok (김광석), a Korean folk singer. Born in 1964, he originally debuted with Kim Min Gi in 1984 and collaborated with DongMulWon (동물원) for two albums before going solo.

Buy at YesAsiaAccording to Wikipedia, On the road (거리에서) made him famous, and further classics such as Around Thirty (서른즈음에) and Letter from a Private (이등병의 편지), and he is still much loved today, even though he is no longer alive, having committed suicide in January 1996. Finding information on him in English is not easy — it seldom is for late 80’s and early 90’s folk rock — but the few performances I saw on YouTube were enough to convince me to buy the one album available on YesAsia which is the 2 disc Best of.

The majority of the songs are acoustic guitar and his distinctive clear vocals, full of sadness and thought, seemingly simple declarations carry so much meaning. I may not be able to understand Korean, but the emotion in these songs needs no translating and it is very easy to see why he is still so popular and loved in Korea. I cannot recommend this album enough but cannot help but wonder what songs I am missing out on with the lack of availability.

Kim Kwang Seok
Kim Kwang Seok in concert

I am always grateful to singers such as Sung Sikyung who love to perform classics like this to an audience that may not otherwise have heard of known about Kim Kwang Seok, particularly those of us who do not live in Korea! Sikyung’s performance of Around Thirty really does the original piece justice, and I did wonder why he didn’t sing or release Letter from a Private seeing as it was so close to his enlistment. Once I had heard Kim Kwang Seok’s original version though it was easy to see why – SiKyung knows well enough to leave greatness to speak (or in this case sing) for itself.

Here’s a video of his performance of Letter From a Private – used in the hit Park Chan-wook film JSA – Joint Security Area:

His music also appeared in The Classic and Christmas in August.

Discography (source: Wikipedia)

* Anthology 1
* Kim Kwang Suk 5th Classic
* Collection:My Way/Story Three – 달
* Collection:My Way/Story Two – 바람
* Collection:My Way/Story One – 편지
* 4jib – ireona Kim Kwang Suk
* insaegiyagi
* dashi bureugi 1
* dashi bureugi 2
* noraeiyagi
* 3jib – Kim Kwang Suk 3
* 2jib – Kim Kwang Suk 2
* Kim Kwang Suk 1 + 2
* 1st jib – Kim Kwang Suk 1


9 thoughts on “Kim Kwang Seok – a folk singer still much loved today

  1. Kim Kwang Seok is one of the earliest Korean singers I listened to and I thank you Park Chan Wok for it. Yesss … I first heard his Letter from A Private in JSA. I was quite fortunate cos I managed to buy a few of his albums and dvds (I just adore his live performances). I notice that his stuffs are quite scarce online now. It is a pity that he had to die so young.

    Sorry, I have to comment though your article here was posted a long time ago. The K-pop fans that I know, only know about the idols and whatnot only. It is sad that a lot of them have no appreciation for real singers especially one as great as Kim Kwang Seok.

    By the way, I also love Sung Shi Kyung, Shin Seung Hun, Im Jae Beom and the likes of them.

  2. I just wanted to say that I discovered Kim Kwang Seok while living in Mokpo, Korea. His music touched me soul…. he is an amazingly talented songwriter and singer. Wow wow wow.

  3. My Korean husband introduced me to Kim Kwang Seok while I lived in Korea. Even though I don’t understand the words, for some reason the music and his voice always moved me to tears. I wish there was more music like this coming out of Korea. He just put on the music again today and it still has that effect on me even though a decade has passed and we’re living in the west. I’m going to look up the other singers PrincelyLuna mentioned. Thank you.

  4. How about : Kim Hyun-sik, Yoo Jae-ha?
    If you guys looking for old K-pop, try these.

    My heart is breaking when I see some foreigner saying “Oh, K-pop! YAYYY!!” on some young hipsters after it’s completely messed up in late 90s. It’s like seeing somebody saying “Oh, American pop!” on Justin Bieber when you have Bob Dylan.

  5. It reminds me of JSA’s line by North Korean Sergeant.
    “Damn, Why Kwang-seok died so early? Boys, let’s have a drink for his sake.”

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