[INTERVIEW] Music is about savoring, not competing: Hareem

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[INTERVIEW] Music is about savoring, not competing: Hareem

World music artist Hareem plays a Drehleier, also known as a hurdy-gurdy, after an interview with The Korea Times at a cafe in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min

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World music artist discloses why he hasn’t released an album in 18 years

By Dong Sun-hwa

Global Tech News Daily

Most singers release albums regularly ― or at least occasionally ― throughout their careers. But world music artist Hareem does not. This free-spirited musician has not put out a new album in 18 years, out of the belief that music is not about commercialization and competition, but is more about savoring and sharing. Hareem, whose real name is Choi Hyun-woo, said he did not realize the authentic value of music when he was young.

The 45-year-old began his singing career as a member of the band VEN in 1996, with the album “ONE,” and went solo in 2001 with the album, “Split Personality.” But shortly after making his solo debut, he began traveling different countries, including Namibia and Ireland, to uncover the “true reason” for why he had been doing music. And by taking a close look at musicians outside Korea who had been forging their own paths, he got a hint.

Global Tech News Daily

“Thanks to my globe-trotting journey, I learned a crucial lesson that music is not only for special people with stunning artistic prowess,” Hareem told The Korea Times in a recent interview, which took place at a cafe in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul.

“It is for everyone to enjoy. But once people become obsessed with the thought that they should roll out an album and compete with others to grab the top spots on music charts ― just like some pop singers in Korea ― they easily get stressed out and go off the boil in music. But the musicians I met around the world were quite different, and these talented musicians performing in the street or at pubs looked joyful and optimistic. So they helped me realize the true meaning and value of music, leading me to walk in their footsteps.”

So Hareem began immersing himself in world music, which he defines as the “music created inside people’s hearts.”

“Many listeners find the traditional sounds of world music unfamiliar and weighty, but in fact, world music is a type of folk music that can recount the diverse stories of ordinary people,” he explained. “After falling under its spell, I discovered a way to enjoy music to the fullest and now, I do not really see the need to unveil my songs as part of an album … If I produce an album, I also have to make some profits out of it and repay money to my record label for its contribution, and that burdens me, too.”

[INTERVIEW] Music is about savoring, not competing: Hareem

Hareem speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at a cafe in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min

In fact, Hareem’s latest studio album, “Whistle in a Maze” ― which offered a series of hits like “Love Forgotten by Another Love” ― came out in 2004, nearly two decades ago. But it will take more time for his next album to hit the shelves, as he is more into performing these days.

He picked the “Africa Overland” concert as one of his favorite shows.

“I have been playing this gig for nearly 10 years,” he said. “For the show, I sing my unreleased songs, like ‘Raining Serengeti,’ which I composed using my guitar and ukulele, while I was staying in Africa. I designed it to be seen like a musical play with a storyline, so that the audience can feel like they are taking a tour of various African countries.”

Hareem, an ambassador for the Korea-Africa Foundation who has a deep affection toward Africa and its people, has also been running a project titled “Guitar for Africa” for over a decade. Through the project, he has sent dozens of guitars ― instruments that are often unaffordable for children in need ― to aspiring musicians in Africa, helping them nurture their musical talent.

“Guitar for Africa” led one of the singer hopefuls to fulfil her dream.

“A decade ago, I visited a music school for Malawian children who had lost their parents and presented a guitar to one of the girls who had a great knack for singing. A few years later, she became a singer and we had a tearful reunion.”

The girl also told Hareem that she passed on her guitar to her student, another child who dreamed of becoming a singer.

“I think this is the spread of positive energy and influence,” he said with a smile. “My guitars will be played by numerous African children and help them live their dreams.”

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