The name of the group is deceptively simple: Samul ("four objects") + Nori ("folk entertainment") = SamulNori. Nathan Hesselink
's new book traces the transformations of this complex contemporary Korean drumming ensemble from its first concert in a cramped Seoul basement in 1978 through the 1990s, by which time they had become a prominent media presence in Korea and abroad. SamulNori: Contemporary Korean Drumming and the Rebirth of Itinerant Performance Culture
(University of Chicago Press, 2012) introduces readers and listeners to the wider history of Korean percussion music. Hesselink locates the roots of SamulNori in itinerant performance culture in Korea, focusing in particular on the namsadang
wandering minstrels and their acrobatics, puppetry, and other performing arts in what reads as a wonderful contribution to the broader history of movement and itinerancy in world history. (Fans of the film The King and the Clown
[Wang ui namja
, 2005] will recognize this category of namsadang
performers!) A CD is included with the book, allowing readers to listen in on some of the major SamulNori works in Hesselink's account. (My particular favorites were the songs produced by the collaboration between SamulNori and the Euro-American jazz quartet Red Sun.) Readers who are already acquainted with traditional Korean percussion will find much of interest in this history, and others will find a new world of music to explore. Enjoy!