Seekers of Songs (노찾사 - Nochatsa) was a group of college students who got together for the love of music in the early 1980s. Students from a few different colleges came together to share ideas as well as write and perform their own music. With a youthful enthusiasm and passion for music, they created enough material to release as a full LP album in 1984. Thus came the first batch of Nochatsa songs which included these two among many other beautiful works. Their songs had the unadulterated passion and idealism characteristic of the young minds, as well as an unquenchable longing for social changes. They followed it with three more original albums, becoming probably the most famous student act in Korean history.
갈 수 없는 고향
The Home I Cannot Return To
The Wind Whooshing
The 80s started with another opportunistic military regime coming to power following the assassination of the incumbent military dictator by one of his henchmen. The beginning of the decade was marked by a huge anti-regime uprising in the Cholla province and the government’s ensuing crackdown which was every bit as large scale and vicious. Nochatsa (노찾사), an acronym for 노래를 찾는 사람들, which translates to Seekers of Songs, started their activities in this rather oppressive environment. In line with the student movement tradition, Nochatsa members were full of liberal and progressive ideals, but they had to tread a fine line to have any chance of releasing music in such environment. This made their first album largely free of explicit political statements, albeit with some vague references and metaphors still showing through, and therefore with the purest artistic content of their four original albums. Nochatsa 1 thus came to be the most highly praised of their works and contained beautiful musical gems brimming with innocent idealism and desire to bring good to the world, while staying free of even the remotest of commercial concerns. This type of music was not unprecedented, as Kim Min Gi had already blazed the trail more than a decade earlier with Morning Dew, and Hahn Dol (한돌, 1953-), an obscure songwriter at the time, was also following suit in similar line of music. Yet Nochatsa was a significant addition in this folk movement in view of the wider grassroots base. Many of their members also went on to become major artists in their own right, including Kim Kwang Seok (김광석) and Ahn-Chi-Hwan (안치환) to name just two. As a fledgling musical act, they received inspiration and guidance from Kim Min Gi for their musical direction, yet they wrote the majority of their songs. All this created a memorable catalog of songs, both historically important and well received by the public, now ranking among the top hundred of all time greatest albums.
The Home I Cannot Return To (갈 수 없는 고향) is a Hahn Dol composition. It is a lyrical and purist folk song typical of Hahn Dol’s work, in the frequently encountered theme of longing for one’s home. Sung by Park Mi Sun (박미선) of Ehwa Women’s University, it is a ballad much like an art song in its clean and innocent style far removed from prevalent pop music trends. The lyrics recounts the narrator leaving her home to come to Seoul, presumably for a factory job which was one prominent social phenomenon of the era that appear in many Nochatsa songs. Even under the tight control of the government, one can see they tried to hint at the injustice and sufferings in the middle of capital-vs-labor struggles.
The Wind Wooshing (바람 씽씽) is an ensemble number involving all the females members, one of the playful songs making up a sub-genre of the Nochatsa songs. Its lyrics depict the cold and windy fields and a tree standing in it all by itself, a metaphor for the trying realities of the time facing the student groups fighting against the iron fist government. It captures the ambivalence of their situation, wanting to go out and join the tree on the one hand and mom stopping them saying it is cold outside on the other.
I got to know Nochatsa songs belatedly in the 90s, and have been a fan of them ever since. Their songs have a special appeal for me, probably because of the quality of the songs, as far as I know. While they may not be a standout in any music aspect, the heartfelt lyrics and melodies are no doubt top notch. The songs are intrinsically good at the most fundamental level, which may be the most important thing in moving the listener’s heart.