Kim Kwang-seok

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Kim Kwang-seok
Born (1964-01-22)22 January 1964
Daegu, South Korea
Died 6 January 1996(1996-01-06) (aged 31)
Seoul, South Korea
Genres Folk rock
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1984–1996
Associated acts Dongmulwon, Noraerul Chanun Saramdul (NoChaSa)
Kim Kwang-seok
Hangul 김광석
Hanja 金光石
Revised Romanization Gim Gwangseok
McCune–Reischauer Kim Kwangsŏk

Kim Kwang-seok (Korean: [kimgwaŋsʰʌk]; January 22, 1964 – January 6, 1996) was a South Korean folk rock singer. He made his debut by joining the recording of a musical ‘Gaedongi’ (개똥이), which consisted of topical songs and was produced by a songwriter and activist Kim Min-ki in 1984. He also participated in the first publicly released album of "Noraerul Chanun Saramdul-Song Seekers," a group of activists and singers in 1987. He became known for his band “Dongmulwon – The Zoo” (동물원) in 1988. He jumped to fame with the first album of Dongmulwon, and then, he began his solo career. Most of his songs were celebrated for his appealing vocals and introspective lyrics, which were broadly loved by young generations of South Korea in 1990s. He released 6 studio albums and 5 compilation albums, and had many hit songs such as “On the street” (거리에서), “Love has gone” (사랑했지만), “A letter from a private” (이등병의 편지) and “Song of my life” (나의 노래). He committed suicide by hanging on January 6, 1996.[1]

Early life[edit]

Kim Kwang-seok was born on January 22, 1964 at Daebong-dong of Daegu city. Kim was the youngest child of a former school teacher. In 1968, when Kim's father lost his job due to his involvement with an illegal teacher's union, his family moved to Seoul. His peers teased him about his small frame, but he was known to be a smart kid. During middle and high school, he joined the school orchestra, where he learned to read music and play violin, oboe, and flute, and the school choir. When he entered Myongji University in 1982, he began to sing at cafes as a part-time job. An impressionable youngster as he was, he used to burst into tears while singing some topical songs from a collection of musical score book ‘Young Christ’ that dealt with the plight of underprivileged class. His encounter with the songs of Kim Min-ki and Handol, who were admired by many student activists, led him to join a club for topical songs. In 1984, as a member of ‘Union of Echoes,’ a group of activists & singers composed of students from many colleges, he took part in the production of a topical-song-musical album ‘Gaedongi’ (개똥이). He also joined in the making of the first album of ‘Noraerul Chanun Saramdul –Song Seekers’ under the initiative of Kim Min-ki, along with other major figures of college clubs of songs for activism. He joined the army in January 1985, and during the years of military service, he decided to pursue the career path of a musician. Discharged from the army, he returned to school, and he performed in the first concert of ‘Noraerul Channun Saramdul’ which was held at the Centennial Memorial Hall of Korean Christian Missionary in October 1987. At the concert, he was applauded with fervent enthusiasm from the audience, emerging as the key member of the group. He was invited to many major political gatherings and cultural events, where he actively participated.[2]

Band Dongmulwon Years[edit]

In the summer of 1987, Kim Gwang-seok and other student musicians he affiliated with recorded some practice pieces. This drew the attention of Kim Chang Wan, the main singer of the rock band San Ul Lim, a major figure in Korean popular music. Impressed by the quality of the record, he arranged the record production, which was released in 1988 with the title of ‘Dongmulwon-The Zoo’. Members of ‘Dongmulwon’, including Kim Kwang-seok, were astonished at the explosive sales of their first album, many of which tracks recorded mega hits. Songs such as ‘On the street’, ‘I’m another guy loving you’, ‘Writing a letter on the cloudy sky of autumn’, ‘Hyehwa-dong’ portrayed emotions of young people in a manner that distinguished them from those of mainstream pop music, which was tarnished by commercialism. In response to the enthusiastic support of fans, Kim Kwang-seok and Dongmulwon held numerous concert.

Solo career[edit]

Encouraged by the unexpected success of Dongmulwon, Kim Kwang-seok released his first solo album in October 1989. This was followed by another two consecutive albums in 1991 and 1992, in which he made a number of hit songs including ‘Love Has Gone’ (사랑했지만) and ‘Song of My Life’ (나의 노래). Unlike many other entertainers, he earned his fame by singing at concerts along with release of records rather than appearing in TV music show. “I’m still unused to the popularity that I gained, but I rather enjoy it.” He spoke to reporter after getting off to a flying start, “Nevertheless, I’m also afraid that my confidence in the power of songs to affect people’s life is growing weaker, as I prosper.” Later, he tried to get closer to audiences by holding more concerts than before. In July 1993, he celebrated the 10th anniversary of his own debut by holding a month-long concert. Also, he released a remake album of Korean folk rock, initiating fads of remake among Korean singers.

With his 4th studio album released in 1994, his musical talent was consummated. This album was monumental not only in his career but also in the history of Korean popular music. He kept singing at concerts, marking a thousand concert in August 1995. In the same year he made a concert tour around the country, which extended abroad to hold concerts at University of Pennsylvania and Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan. He preferred small concert halls to be in closer contact with audiences, setting a trend of concert in small theatres around Daehangno in Seoul, a Korean equivalent of Broadway.

Death and Beyond[edit]

After his suicide, allegations were made, all of which were unsubstantiated.[3] Events and projects have been organized in commemoration of Kim Kwang-seok ever since his death. A tribute concert has been held annually by singers across musical genres including rock and roll and hip-hop, and his albums sell steadily, marking 5 million copies as of January 2007.[4] On 6 January 2008, the 12th anniversary of his death, a memorial relief sculpture was unveiled at the concert hall where he held a thousand times of concert, drawing many fans remembering him. In November 2010, more than 20 artists, designers, and sculptors made collective work of a mural to the memory of Kim Kwang-seok in the city of Daegu, where he spent his early years. Critics and reporters analyze his legacy and persisting fervor for his music in numerous articles and books such as ‘Biography of Kim Kwang-seok, an unsent message’ by Lee Yoon-ock and ‘The 100 masterpiece albums of Korean Popular Music’ by Park Joon-hum et al. From the perspective of history of Korean popular music, he is the direct descendant as well as the successor of Korean topical folk rock, which was initiated by Han Dae-su and flourished with songs of Kim Min-ki, Jung Tae-choon, and arguably Cho Dong-jin in early 1970s under the rule of the dictator Park Chung Hee, who was in power from 1961 to 1979. However, even though Kim Kwang-seok’s music was clearly rooted in social issues in his early years of career, he also empathized with sorrow and frustration of individuals, which had been downplayed in the struggle for democracy. Around the late 80s and early 90s, with the improvement of democracy in Korean society, young generations began to turn their attention from collectivism and community to individualism and experiences of contemporary peers. He illustrated the lives of people with loving eyes, but stayed in composure. Lee Joo-yup, a music critic, argues that his songs portrayed individuals who are constantly hovering around the border of pessimism and optimism, but sublimated the self-consciousness that never give up the strain of facing the reality. “Standing in the midst of darkness of night, I can’t see even an inch ahead, where I am going, where I am standing, uselessly looked around, drifting over the river of life like floating weed, I may perish away at unknown river bank, stand up, stand up, give it a try, stand up, stand up, like the sprouts in Spring” (Stand up).[5]


Film soundtrack[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

The German Hip Hop group Die Orsons made a song called Kim Kwang-seok. The song deals with Kim's music and suicide.


  1. ^ Kim Kyu-hyun (February 5, 2003). "CD Reviews: Joint Security Area and Great Science Fiction Blockbusters". Film Score Monthly. Archived from the original on March 7, 2009. Retrieved October 10, 2009. 
  2. ^ Choi, Gyu-sung (2 July 2004). "A journey to memoir : Kim Kwang-seok". Weekly Hankook. Retrieved 27 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Kim, So-min (29 December 2005). "Unending song of Kim Kwang-seok". The Hankyoreh (Korean). Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  4. ^ Paek, Seung-chang (30 January 2007). "Late Kim Kwang-seok's album sold over 5 million copies". The Kyunghyang Shinmun (Korean). Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  5. ^ Lee, Joo-yup (2008). The 100 masterpiece albums of Korean Popular Music. Seoul: Sun. p. 462. ISBN 89-86509-26-1. 
  6. ^ 영화 'JSA 효과'의 두 표정 - 문화프리즘

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