Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Seoul Music and Ping Pong Diplomacy

Went for the cultural jackpot today - with Junior to the opera for kids' series in the afternoon, followed by an evening of cool jazz in Jerusalem. Truth be told I'm totally amazed that it all worked out, what with working out babysitting for the baby, then promptly rushing of to Jerusalem, dropping off the kids for an evening of auntie fun and then making it to the theatre in time for the jazz. Very well coordinated, especially for me. 

I guess Korea isn't the first country that comes to mind when you think of jazz acts. For most people it's the country of LG and Hyundai rather than music and the arts. Well this week I suppose we're all thinking of Korea as the flashpoint for a potential armagedon thanks to the lunatic in charge in Pyongyang, but anyway. 

We arrived at the theatre expecting a relaxing evening of jazz, so you'll forgive our inward groans and eye rolls when a guy gets up on stage before the show and announces that actually there will be a little awards ceremony first with a member of the Jerusalem Municipality and an MK and the Korean Ambassador, and you know what? I came to see a show, not for some political posturing, thank you. 

Imagine my surprise when no other than Yuli Edelstein, minister for diaspora affairs and one of my all time favourite political leaders (and I don't have many of those) and childhood heroes, gets up looking rather sheepish, and explains that actually he also came this evening for the jazz but the organisers saw him in the audience and twisted his arm into saying a few words. Poor man, kept his cool and his charm but I think he was just as miffed about being drafted as we felt initially at hearing about said ceremony. 

Being Yuli Edelstein he kept it short and brilliantly beautifully to the point. Who better than he to point out that Israel has often stood in the dark place that South Korea now finds herself, facing unprovoked rocket attacks on her civilians by a tyrannical neighbour. He expressed Israel's sympathy and solidarity with South Korea with such warmth and sincerity that I wanted to hug him on behalf of my very dear South Korean friends. 

Hilik Bar from the Jerusalem city council spoke about warm ties with Korea and the recent boost in Korean tourism to Israel's capital. And his mangling of the Korean language was cute, even if I didn't understand what he said, I could make out the Israeli accent.

Turns out Israel's ambassador to Seoul heard Korean jazz singer Malo and harmonic player Jeon Jeduk perform in the Korean capital and was so taken by them that he decided to try and set up an Israel tour for the duo and their backing band. So far they'ed played Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere, finishing up right here in Jerusalem. Cue little handwave to said ambassador, his wife, his daughter, her boyfriend, all sitting in the audience tonight.

South Korea's ambassador stole the show though, all humble charm, sweetly accented English and wry humour.   He was he explained, used to spending time with Minister Edelstein, his regular ping pong partner. Who knew? 

Finally he tried his hand at some Hebrew and mispronounced it as beautifully as Hilik Bar had Korean, but he'd won the hearts of his Israeli audience who enthusiastically clapped and cheered his initiative. I think he single handedly boosted Israeli tourism to Korea. That man has talent. 

And so to the music. Jeon Jeduk was on first with the band. Blind almost from birth, he was escorted on stage and seated front centre, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses. When he took out his harmonic though you forgot all that, he made it sing like a clarinet, a sax, all kinds of things that definitely did not sound like a harmonica, his face scrunched in concentration, lost in the music. DH, a fan of the clarinet, was truly blown away. I was pretty impressed too. 

I thought Malo, stage name of singer Soowol Cheong, was the highlight of the show though. Her scatting was a joy to listen to, playful and vibrant. She had the audience eating out of her hand. I loved the gentle sound of her native tongue in her jazzy versions of Korean pop tunes (including one that sounded like Hatikva!) while her English singing was almost unaccented.

What can I say, it was fun, it was spirited, and it most definitely had soul. 

Make that Seoul.