Right around 1970, the folk music movement was percolating in Korea. It was not just a musical trend but a social phenomenon as well which affected the life style of young generation significantly. Hahn Dae Soo (한대수, 1943-) and his cohorts were at the forefront of it. To The Land of Happiness (행복의 나라로) was a seminal song that symbolized the sweeping trend through its lyrics as well as the new and fresh musical style. The lesser known The Wind and I (바람과 나) epitomized the elusive, mystic-like side of Hahn’s style. They helped usher in the new folk era in Korea, a start of a long and rich journey to come.
To The Land of Happiness
The Wind and I
Hahn Dae Soo had an impressive pedigree, with nuclear physicist farther, pianist mother, and renowned theologist grandfather. Owing to his father’s academic work in New York, Hahn had an early exposure to the rising hippie and folk culture of America at an early age. Augmenting this influence with his own flair of genius, he started writing songs of new spirit and style practically unknown in Korea at the time. They shared an emphasis on voicing the sentiments of the youth of the era as well as heavy reliance on the acoustic guitar and harmonica with Bob Dylan’s early style, yet they were also distinctive in the way it embraced a liberated, eccentric spirit and in its call to taking charge of one’s destiny. Although Hahn has started to write and perform songs even before 1970, his first album The Long Long Road (멀고 먼 길) only came out in 1974. Containing these two songs as well as other significant works, it is now one of the legendary LP albums of Korean music history. Together with Kim Min Gi, Hahn is like a father figure to Korea’s folk music. He is to Kerea what Bob Dylan is to America.
To The Land of Happiness is a song that admonishes breaking out of the mold and taking charge of your life to change your fate. On top of its freewheeling lyrics and spirit, its message hit a bull’s eye in the backdrop of the mores of the time. After the war in 1950 and the ensuing social upheavals in the 60s, Korea was kicking into a full tilt industrial drive at an increasingly hectic pace, with the fervent desire to shake off its old baggages of poverty and suffering for new found prosperity. It was the dictator regime who led this mobilization, however, which made Korea of the 70s an ironic mixture of bright new hope and stifling oppressions coexisting. The new folk music provided a moral boost to the young generation, and Hahn’s Happiness was probably the iconic one in this regard. It inspired a lot of students and brought on the Tong’gi’tar (통기타 - acoustic guitar) phenomenon where so many youngsters pick up a guitar that the joke going around was that a youth who didn’t play guitar must be a North Korean spy. It was an unprecedented significant youth movement and Hahn was one of the key figures at the vanguard.
The poetic The Wind and I has a mystical feel to it. In line with the singer’s self effacing and eccentric character, it extols a life like that of a wind, unfettered by the mundane, small minded vagaries of the daily grind. This free wind existence is obviously just a poetic expression more than anything else, but it comes off like the embodiment of cool to a young mind, evoking a longing for transcendentality smacking of hubris, which is characteristic of the youth. Such amplification and imagery of a concept is what art is for. It is how an art inspires and moves us.
Hahn Dae Soo was a fresh air that dropped onto the scene one day out of nowhere. He had the genius of writing all his music and lyrics himself, and the persona of a liberated free spirit. He was a stunning newcomer and looked to be poised to make a big splash. Unfortunately though, like many other artists Hahn found himself cross with the all powerful regime of the day. This put a brake on his career after 1975, as he was forced to leave the Korean music scene for a while, which probably took a toll on his creative energy. He may not have realized the full potential of his talents because of this but he is nonetheless regarded as one of the greatest shining stars in Korean music.