Diplomacy meets alt-pop and dances the night away

Fusing traditional tonalities with a contemporary sentiment, alt-pop band LEENALCHI are celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and South Korea.

You may have heard of K-pop (Korean pop music) but prepare for something new when the Korean Cultural Centre shines the spotlight on Korea’s thriving alternative music scene. Combining traditional tonalities with a contemporary sentiment, trailblazing alt-pop band LEENALCHI are performing as part of the online concert series Travel of Korea’s Sound, celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and South Korea.  

The program also features the National Orchestra of Korea on 14 October, while LEENALCHI perform on 21 October. Both concerts will be streamed for free on the Korean Cultural Centre’s YouTube and Facebook channels. 

The first performance showcases the National Orchestra’s Sam-Sam-O-Rak 2, part of a collaborative series featuring a range of Korean instruments and genres, while LEENALCHI will perform their acclaimed debut album, Sugungga, which took South Korea by storm following its 2020 release.

Sugungga tells of a sick Dragon King who tasks his subordinate, a sea turtle, to fetch a rabbit’s liver in order to cure his illness – an animal that neither of the ocean-dwelling creatures have ever seen. The fable is captured by LEENALCHI through songs such as ‘Crying Softshell Turtle’ and ‘You Know Who I Am?’, performed in a funky mash-up that will light up the night for Australian audiences. 

Although borrowing from the musical Korean storytelling tradition called pansori, the six-member band explained that ‘LEENALCHI’s music is far from popularisation, modernisation of traditional Korean music or a transformation of Korean music into world music’. 

As LEENALCHI’s Ahn Yi Ho explained, ‘We just hope that an interesting story of old turns into dance music, which is a little special.’

One of the band’s four pansori singers, Ahn said: ‘For a long time, “tradition” has been considered something so precious or old-fashioned. But today, it could mean something different.

‘LEENALCHI’s music strikes a balance between pansori and band music. That may be why our performance sounds the most familiar but at the same time, unfamiliar.’


Formed in 2019, LEENALCHI has used virtual performances to help reach a broader audience as well as show off their strengths, co-vocalist Kwon Song Hee explained. ‘When LEENALCHI was beginning to be active, the pandemic forced us to perform virtually most of the time … We found it meaningful to take advantage of videos to show a team’s individuality.’

Another member, Lee Na Rae, added: ‘Innumerable boundaries have become blurred, not only for space and time but also for many other things. We hope you enjoy yourselves at this moment through music, regardless of genres, nationalities and races.’

Ahn hopes the band’s virtual concert will act as a gateway for those with no experience of contemporary Korean music: ‘A culture actually encompasses a certain community’s way of life. So, if different people can relate to something, there wouldn’t be a starting point greater than this.

‘People used to “hear” music but now, they “see” it,’ Ahn added. ‘Such a new way of enjoying music is a big factor for us.’  

Using a common rhythm to bridge traditional and contemporary art forms, LEENALCHI’s performances often involve collaborators such as the Ambiguous Dance Company in order to create a full sensory experience. This time, at the Korean Cultural Centre’s online concert, the band will play against a backdrop of stunning natural wonders. 

Through interwoven genres and offbeat lyrics, LEENALCHI invite audiences to delve into a performance that can transcend our understanding of Korean music, or just to dance along. 

As Ahn explained: ‘It all began with curiosity … We believe that the people of Korea and Australia are both born with a natural sense of joy and excitement.’

Travel of Korea’s Sound is a virtual event organised by the Korean Cultural Centre AU. The National Orchestra of Korea will perform on 14 October 7pm AEDT and Leenalchi will perform on 21 October 7pm AEDT. Watch the concerts on Facebook or YouTube.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne and was most recently engaged in consultation for the Emerging Writers’ Festival and ArtsGen. Instagram @lleizy_