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  • Broken Voices: Postcolonial Entanglements and the Preservation of Korea’s Central Folksong Traditions by Roald Maliangkay
  • Anna Yates-Lu (bio)
Broken Voices: Postcolonial Entanglements and the Preservation of Korea’s Central Folksong Traditions, by Roald Maliangkay. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017. 264 pages. ISBN: 9780824866655. $64.00.

This book, the first English-language monograph on Korean folksong, is a wonderfully rich and detailed analysis of the effects of Japanese colonialism on three folksong genres: Sŏnsori santaryŏng, Kyŏnggi minyo, and Sŏdo sori.By tracing the way these three genres have developed during and after the Japanese colonial period, Maliangkay draws a clear picture of South Korea’s policies for the preservation of intangible cultural heritage, and the opportunities and tensions arising as a result. [End Page 154]

The basic premise for Maliangkay’s argument is outlined in the Introduction and in Chapter 1, in which he highlights Japanese influence on the development of Korean cultural policy, in particular on the Intangible Cultural Property (ICP) system, and makes his case for the importance of a sustainable approach in preservation efforts by adapting to the changing makeup of society. He also emphasizes the importance of intangible heritage for national image, which provides the background for much of his following discussion.

Chapter 2 lays the foundation for the reader’s understanding of Korean folksong, comprising an introduction to the student make-up, rhythms, lyrical content, and modernization of folksongs in modern times. This last point is particularly interesting for scholars of Korean popular culture as it highlights the overlap between traditional and popular music performers during and shortly after the colonial period.

While the first half of the book demonstrates Maliangkay’s credentials as a scholar intimately acquainted with current academic debates in Korean traditional music research, it is in Chapters 3 and 4 that his work truly shines, in the richness of ethnographic detail provided, as well as the finely-tuned balance between the personal, political, and institutional views of developments in Korean folksong. Both chapters share the same basic format of introducing the three genres’ historical background, core repertoire, and musical and performance characteristics, followed by personal accounts of core individuals in each genre.

Chapter 3 focuses on Sŏnsori santaryŏng and Kyŏnggi minyo, highlighting the change in demographics from once male-dominated genres to having a high proportion of female students in the former case and having only female holders of the tradition in the latter. In the case of Sŏnsori santaryŏng, Maliangkay highlights how performance conventions have changed, from wild and raw performance to an increased focus on elegance, as it becomes more female-dominated. Maliangkay’s comment here that “Younger generations will grow up with the new version of this tradition and become accustomed to the new standard” (p. 95) is particularly poignant.

In his discussion of Kyŏnggi minyo, a genre which became female-dominated much earlier than the other genres in this book, Maliangkay addresses the institution of kisaeng, female performers often (and, according to Maliangkay, purposefully) likened to Japanese geisha. The personal stories of An Pich’wi, Muk Kyewŏl, and Yi Ŭnju in this section are especially striking as they describe the performer’s personal motivations to sing, as well as the cost this often had for their interpersonal relationships. This section also has great impact in its highlighting of those overlooked in [End Page 155] selection as holders in the preservation system, in both the potential impact this may have had on the death of one singer, Kim Okshim, as well as how the passing over of male singers due to overlap with Sŏnsori santaryŏng helped further underline a gender split in perceptions of the genre.

Chapter 4 focuses on the importance of nostalgia in the preservation of Sŏdo sori, comprising songs from the North Korean provinces of P’yŏngan and Hwanghae. Maliangkay argues that the “genre will not be broken by the impending loss of native representatives and place, but sustained instead by its ability to invoke nostalgia” (p. 117), as its plaintive melodies become a symbol of the country’s division. This chapter revolves predominantly around...


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pp. 154-157
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