The talk of the town during this year’s Chuseok (Korea’s most important traditional holiday akin to Thanksgiving) was definitely Na Hoon-a, a singer-songwriter in the Trot genre. His concert, with no spectators on the site, aptly devised for this ‘untact’ or ‘lockdown’ period the whole world is going through, was on television on 30th September. It was his first TV appearance in 15 years.
The term Trot obviously comes from Foxtrot, although it is not so obvious when you actually listen to it. It seems to be an addition of distinctly Korean-sounding music to the post-WWII crooners’ music of jazz and standard pop, which was popular to some extent in Japan and Korea also; rather than giving way to rock-n-roll, like in the West, it retained the typically male crooner’s soloist singing and customized to regional tastes.
Na, known as the Emperor of Trot music (and even Korean music in general), says that Arirang is a better-suited name for the genre, because it has become so embodied in Korean style and sentiments that appeal to the older generation. It is either joyful or sentimental, with usual topics of love and different attitudes and philosophies of life. Trot has become much more popular recently through various television contests and audition shows.
Following this recent boom of Trot music in Korea, a concert by a legendary singer like Na Hoon-a came at the right timing. Many Koreans aged 50 and upwards have long been fans of Na’s, but perhaps the best result for Na is that his recently televised concert was a huge success in appealing to the younger Koreans who have been more or less unaware or not much interested in his music.
Na was born as Choe Hong-gi in Busan, Korea’s second major city and biggest port, supposedly on February 11th 1947. He made his debut as a singer in 1966. Na is known to be registered as being a couple of years older than his actual age, because as a young singer just making his debut back in the day, he strove to avoid being taken advantage of by the entertainment industry.
Over the decades, Na has accumulated over 120 hit songs and numerous prestigious awards. He is credited with having written more than 800 songs.
Na has been married and divorced three times – his second marriage was to the Korean star actress Kim Ji-mee in 1976, an older woman in his life. Their marriage and divorce created sensation in the Korean media. Then Na had two children with his third wife Chung Su-kyung, who was also a singer. The couple divorced in 2016.
Allegedly, Na has refused a concert in North Korea because he wanted no part in performing in a State-driven project. In a similar incident, Na refused to sing for the Samsung family because of how he defined himself as a singer of popular music that sings for the populace. These stories have helped to build Na’s public image of integrity and willpower.
Na’s solid vocal powers as well as creativity in music and performance have always been well-known to the general public, but often through hearsay rather than experience. This is because Na has been something of a veiled artist, in contrast to many other Korean entertainers who have regularly appeared on reality programs and other commercial projects. It’s no surprise, then, that many people besides his faithful fans have never seen his concert until recently.
In his September 30th concert, Na gave out messages of hope, and reminded his viewers that it had always been the people, the public, that have overcome difficulties rather than the leaders of the nation. While some of the phrases used could be interpreted as political (in a way not favorable to the current government), his sincerity has touched the hearts of many. It looks like Na’s highly successful career is going through a renascence.