Does music have borders? Some music that contains a country’s culture and history go over frontiers and has the power to make a country stop warring, become independent or unified. One man abandoned popular music to introduce this genre known as World Music. He travelled the world to embrace diverse countries’ music, culture, and history and is conveying it to the society. The Sookmyung Times (SMT) visited singer-song writer Hareem’s (HAREEM) atelier to hear the song of his life.
SMT To start the story, could you tell us about the first time you started to take interest in music?
HAREEM As far as I remember, I played piano during my primary school years, but I started to sincerely engage in music from high school. From then, I bought a computer and started to compose. Throughout my high school years and until my early 20s, music was my life. Every subject revolved around music, and I sang and played for hours each day. At the age of 21, I debuted as part of the group VEN. This debut started my music career path. These days, however, I am trying to separate music from my life because I fear ‘Music taking control of my life’.
SMT It is odd to hear that as an established musician, you do not want music to be your everything.
HAREEM Yes, well, one single moment drove me to this thought. In the past, I carried an instrument everywhere I went. One day I thought, “I must be mad, carrying around this heavy thing, sacrificing my legs and arms though I am not even going to play it!” It was then I started to go out without it. At first, I had withdrawal symptoms and feelings of anxiety. Eventually, I was able to spend my time comfortably without an instrument. Each of us should be owners of own lives, not tied to any one thing. Otherwise, you become unsustainable without it and it’s hard to enjoy life.
SMT After your first R&B solo album release, you decided to travel the world. What made you set off on the journey?
HAREEM It was my thirst for true music that made me to take on the journey. In my early days, I just enjoyed making cool music, but as time went by, deficiency grew within me. By chance, I had an opportunity to travel Ireland after my first album release and was surprised to see so much diverse music in world. Seeing people enjoying music live on streets, I realized that the music industry I had been exposed to until now had been limited to album releases, the buying of CDs, and the going to karaokes. I loved that music could live in people and attract world attention, so I began my quest to travel the world to study. I spent about 10 years on this journey.
SMT Do you have any impressive episodes you’d like to share with our readers from the journey?
HAREEM The most memorable episode is the one I just mentioned. On the third day of my travels in Ireland, I saw a student playing flute on the street. There was no one evaluating him, just an audience listening. He just sat there playing. I asked him thereason for his performing and he casually responded, he was just practicing. I never realized he was performing on street as practice and not as a means to earn money. A musician playing music on the street to an audience without any demand woke me to the healthy ecosystem of music being harmonized with the world.
SMT As said, just when you were gaining popularity, you set off to learn World Music*. Didn't you have any fear?
HAREEM Well, there was no fear since there was no pressure to succeed. Although people were saying my song Chul-guk had gained popularity, I knew my life wouldn’t change much due to an experience in my youth. When I was little, one day, I passed a rich neighborhood with my father. Because I was raised in a middle class family, I asked him what rich people eat and wear. He responded with, “They eat food and wear clothes just like us. It’s just that they eat a little bit more expensive meals and have a bit more pricy clothing.” Success and possessions do not have much meaning in the end. The more important thing about life is ‘how you live,’ not ‘what you possess.’
SMT These days, it seems that you are operating many projects** for people isolated from the global world.
HAREEM It might appear that way, but I didn’t start out to ‘help’ others. Rather, I wanted to form a ‘balance.’ For example, Guitar4Africa sends guitars to African children to give back inspiration. Just because I incorporated African sounds into my songs does not mean the sound is mine. It’s the music of African history, children, and nature that inspired me. I try to give something back to Africa and since all I have is music, the project was launched. It’s not about helping the neglected. It’s about giving back what is theirs and letting them know that they are beautiful just as they are.
SMT Your clarity in life from an early age is impressive. Could you give advice to students today struggling with owning their lives? (Such as merely entering a major company without any fixed dream)
HAREEM If I were speaking to my niece or younger sister, I would say, “The most important thing is you and your thoughts.” Do not be controlled by others. Sometimes I joke that if I had kept on with my R&B career, I might now have two golden teeth, be wearing a fur coat, and have two beautiful women at my side. But that is not me, and I do not envy that lifestyle. You don’t have a fixed dream right now, so don’t stress over it. There will come a time when your thoughts become firm. It sure will come one day. Knowing that you are the owner of your life is crucial in whatever you do or whatever you choose.
• World Music Performance Specialist
• Vocal Professor at Korea Art Conservatory
• Representative of Atelier O
• 2004 Second Solo Album [Whistle In Maze]
• 2001 First Solo Album [Multiple Personalities]
• 1996 Debut in the Group VEN
* World music contains the root music of several diverse countries. Root music is music that has survived generations and contains the culture and history of a country.
** Hareem formed the cultural planning association Atelier O in 2010 and operates Project DOHA for artists' rights, Guitar4Africa for African children, and Secret Action for human rights.