|Members of NST & the Soul Sauce hang out with legendary Jamaican reggae producer Lee Scratch Perry, fourth from right, after performing at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival June 17. ／ Photo courtesy of NST and the Soul Sauce|
By Jon Dunbar
Somehow, Jamaican roots music brings out the Korean roots in Korean musicians.
A band of Korean musicians toured America last week for the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, a reggae festival featuring countless Jamaican music legends including Barrington Levy, Third World, Capleton, Keith & Tex and Lee Scratch Perry. They also played two extra shows with Perry.
Noh Seon-teck, leader of Korean reggae group NST & The Soul Sauce, said it was an "honor" to meet Perry, whose studio Black Ark produced the greatest reggae recordings in history.
"I want to show him another sound from Far East Asia," Noh told The Korea Times hours before boarding a plane to the U.S. last Thursday. "I am living in different roots and culture. I think it makes a different sound. I respect the reggae sound but I don't follow Jamaican roots and culture because I am Korean."
They reportedly took the U.S. festival audience by surprise on June 17.
"The reaction to our performance was overwhelming because so many people came to talk to us afterwards," said Oh Jeong-seok, NST's trumpeter whose dreadlocks hang down almost to his knees. "I almost felt like a star from the audience's reaction to us."
According to Oh, they sold almost all of the 400 CDs they brought, the band's debut CD "Back When Tigers Smoked."
Chock full of nods to their Korean heritage, one standout song is "Riding a Jorang Horse" about the small-sized horses originating from Mongolia, now famed on Jeju Island. The lyrics describe riding the horses all around the world and spreading Korean culture, going to America to ride with Native Americans and turn the White House lawn into a rice paddy.
"Western philosophy, which has been transformed into materialism, has already reached its limit, just like a cracked dry riverbed," the liner notes say about the song. "The roots of Oriental philosophy and thought… will be the lanterns of this era."
Also notably on "Red Tiger," pansori singer Kim Yul-hee lends a classical touch, while on other tracks percussion/melodica player Smiley Song sings lyrics that could be mistaken for reggae greats like Big Youth and U-Roy were they not in Korean.
"The new album came out like a baby born to the world," Noh said.
But Noh and his seven bandmates are no strangers to the world of music, each coming from a strong musical background. Noh previously performed with Korean reggae band Windy City from 2013 to 2015. Smiley Song also played for reggae-pansori band I&I Djangdan, and keyboardist Lee Jong-min also plays for Kiha and the Faces. Oh is a founding member of ska band Kingston Rudieska, formed 2004. Together with this project, they've already performed Japan's Fuji Rock Festival and Endless Summer Hong Kong International Reggae Ska Festival.
"The Soul Sauce members are unique, like pirates," Noh said. "That's why I captured them. When I play with The Soul Sauce, I'm always happy!"
"I got so much feedback from the audience about how impressed they were with Korean reggae," Oh said. "Many people didn't realize reggae music existed in Korea, so I was happy to bring some attention to the Korean reggae scene."
The band receives some support from the Korea Creative Content Agency, which reimburses them for airline tickets and hotel costs on the day of performances.