Palsandae – Korean music and performing arts

The Rainforest World Music Festival this year has put up a plentiful schedule of musicians, with an impressively jam-packed schedule that included exhibitions, cultural shows and lots of performances. It has sadly come to an end, and when we sit and talk about the event, there were a lot of musical treats in store, but one of the most exhilarating performances was indeed the one by South Korean ensemble group Palsandae.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPalsandae is acrobatic art performed by a dance troupe of 16 members. The troupe features Korean traditional music, acrobatics, dances and shamanic prayer songs, and their performances are rooted in a tradition of traveling music and dance troupes. This year was apparently the first time they manage to bring all of its members onto an international stage. Palsandae charismatic and shamanic male leader Kim Woon Tae, one of few in a group of near-all women, grew up traveling with a troupe and has a jazz background.


Palsandae reproduces the traditional ‘sandae’ stage, which displays the essence of traditional Korean music and dance, and ‘pal’ means ‘eight’ or ‘whole’ in Korean when added to a name.


Palsandae breathtaking performances carry elements of improvisation and wild music that is at times very loud, ecstatic and steeped in spirituality. Their genre is a traditio


nal farmers’ music called ‘nongak’, a deliciously cacophony played by double-headed janggo drums, clattering hand-held kkwaenggwari gongs, sogo hand drums, and the braying piri, a small bamboo oboe. Palsandae has a wide range of repertoire including shamanic prayer songs – ‘pansori’ – traditional storytelling songs, improvisational ‘shinawi’ ensemble music, and ‘pangut’, the highlight of its program featuring Master Kim Woon Tae’s Chaesang Sogo Dance.


Palsandae is a show of weave acrobatics and dances with performers wearing traditional clothes and Chaesang hats with ribboned whirly gigs, a stunning extravaganza that they brought onto the main stage as in a circus performance. Leader Kim is most well-known for his Chaesang Sogo Dance, a dance that is quite popular.


The foundation of Palsandae’s mesmerizing performance is shamanism, but elements of the many other religions in Korea are brought in as an addition to the set of farmers’ music ably directed by Kim Woon Tae.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople familiar with Korea culture should recognize this iconic dance that has become a genre of traditional Korean dance. Palsandae are proud of their culture and carry down the tradition of Korea’s last nomadic ‘nongak’ troupe – literally meaning farmers’ music, Honam Yeoseong Nongak Dan (meaning Honam region’s female nongak troupe).


Members of Palsandae walked down from the west area of the main stage and, quite in contact with the audience, performed a ritual to cleanse the concert space. During the fascinating act and the visually stunning stage of ‘pangut’, each performer played a percussion instrument while whirling and spinning ribbons on their ‘chaesang’ hats, expressing the continuous flow of life. A fascinating performance that dazzled the audience. There was a lot of improvisation, with dances adapted to the energy of the space in which it happened, and with costume changes made on stage for a programme that Kim created especially for the Rainforest World Music Festival and that will never be repeated.


Palsandae dazzled audiences with their energy level and an uplifting blend of traditional and party music, dazzling display of costumes, twirling dancers, and ritualistic chanting. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe essence of the group is connecting with nature, people, the community and the environment, the perfect themes at the Rainforest World Music Festival. For us Palsandae was a new and mysterious thing that we treasure dearly thanks to good memories and great pictures and videos.


In the period of Joseon Dynasty, ‘sandae’ referred to the stage held at the palace for the most important figures at the time: the King and foreign ambassadors. Upon their arrival to the palace, the kingdom’s most talented performers put out a spectacular ‘sandae’. ‘Nongak’ old styles of farm and street music used to be predominated by male performers, among both professionals and amateurs, as in many other cultures most drummers are male. However a handful of professional female groups emerged and made great commercial successes during that time in agricultural Korea. Female ‘pungmul’ ensembles would roll into a town, set up a tent and present their circus-like shows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADirector of Palsandae, Master Kim Woon Tae, started travelling with his father’s troupe Honam Yeoseong Nongak Dan at the age of seven, and soon became a child star. He then toured the world as a member of Little Angels and later with the famed Kim Duk Soo Samulnori group. Under Kim’s direction, Palsandae preserves and develops ‘honam udo’ region’s ‘pangut’, usually performed by eleven to thirteen members, with each performer playing a percussion instrument in ensemble while running, whirling and spinning ribbons on their ‘chaesang’ hats, and while the players keep on running in a circle.

The Palsandae troupe is today supported by South Korean government funding, namely the Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism of Korea and the Federation of Gyeonggi Cultural Center, and the more they perform internationally, the more recognition they are getting in their own country.

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About the author

Thomas has a university background in the UK and in Latin America, with studies in Languages and Humanities, Culture, Literature and Economics. He started his Asian experience as a publisher in Krabi in 2005. Thomas has been editing local newspapers and magazines in England, Spain and Thailand for more then fifteen years. He is currently working on several projects in Thailand and abroad. Apart from Thailand, Thomas has lived in Italy, England, Venezuela, Cuba, Spain and Bali. He spends most of his time in Asia. During the years Thomas has developed a great understanding of several Asian cultures and people. He is also working freelance, writing short travel stories and articles for travel magazines. Follow Thomas on

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