BUSAN, South Korea — Everyone looks forward to winter’s end, but not so welcomed are the numerous farewells that go along with it as many expats head back home to carry on with their lives. This farewell season, it’s time to say goodbye to another pillar of the Busan music community, Angela Crebbin. After 11 years gracing the stages of Busan, intoxicating crowds with her mesmerizing voice, she has made the difficult decision to head back to home and family in Victoria, Australia.
I had the blessed fortune of meeting Angela in 2001 when she became my new co-worker. Around this time, a few expat musicians had been coming together, with the support of bar owner Dong Ha, to create what was the early beginnings of Busan’s now thriving expat music scene.
Sunday nights, in the original Soul Trane, the first open mic jams began, showing promise of the great music to come. This developed into a few years of weekly shows at the Crossroads with Angela, supported by myself on percussion, Patrick Carle on the violin, and several others joining in at one point or another along the way.
It was here that many in the expat community were first hit with, “Whoa, that girl can really sing!” Turned out she was an outstanding guitar player and songwriter as well.
In my experience playing with different bands I find that the best musicians to play with have two essential characteristics: talent and a good personality. Sometimes, an abundance in one can be an excuse to overlook some deficiencies in the other. Anyone who has met Angela and seen her perform can tell that she has a rare abundance of both.
It seems that almost every band that was forming around those days wanted to have her involved She put her piano skills to work with the swing-blues group Cold Shot, showed off her bluegrass chops with the Kettle Mountain Social, got in the funk-fusion with Rev. Mack & the Funk Attack, set the crowd on their feet with the legendary B-funk with Jonathan Parker, and has been leading the reggae/funk/soul group One Drop East since 2007.
Everyone who has been fortunate enough to perform with her has been awed by what an amazing talent and personality she is. They also quickly realize: This is the woman you want in your band!
Before arriving in Korea, Angela payed her dues in her own local music scene with some, at times, thankless gigs, but learned a lot on the way. While we often assume that singing is just a natural ability, Angela says that it is something that one really has to work at and develop just like any other instrument.
I recently got a chance to sit and talk with her about her music, her time here in Busan and the allure of a mutton-chopped man on the mandolin. On a final note, I just want to say, that rare talent such as Angela Crebbin will be greatly missed by all of us she leaves behind.
How did you first get into playing music?
When I was a kid there were a few friends of my parents who played instruments and I was in love that kind of magical atmosphere that a live instrument in a room of people creates and I guess then I wanted to be able to have a go, be involved with that, and tap into the magic of it more directly. I begged my mum for piano lessons at about the age of 10 or 11, and after being convinced that I was serious, she scrounged up the money for an old piano and some lessons and I was hooked. Singing came later, with guitar and very early song writing. Decent singing only happened for me relatively recently, I think, with more intense performance experience.
Who are your big influences?
I think everything you listen to influences you one way or another and probably mostly unconsciously. I’d have to say Etta James is the vocal equivalent to the New York Times crossword and takes a lot of figuring out. She puts so much into a single note, in terms of inflection, breath, and mood and any time I want to learn something new I just try to sing one of her songs.
Sam Cooke is another singer who knew how to drip honey all over the simplest of melodies. Amalia Rodrigues and Nina Simone are pretty decent vocal teachers, too. Tom Waits and Paul Simon are two of my favourite lyricists, and if I could play guitar like anyone, I would want to play like Mark Knopfler or JJ Cale.
What first brought you to Korea?
An ESL teaching degree, boredom, and having fallen in love with a young, mandolin-wielding, mutton-chop-sporting man who talked me into travelling with him. We travelled all around Asia and then parted ways. Korea looked promising, but I nearly changed my mind when, in Bangkok, someone told me that some kind of pickled cabbage and seaweed were staple foods of Korea- food I will start to crave about a month after getting back home, no doubt.
What have been your impressions of Busan?
Busan has changed so much in the time I’ve been here, but it’s always been a great place to be in Korea and it’s getting easier and easier to live here as a foreigner. All I can say is that I love it, and I’ll miss it. I have that sneaking suspicion that I might be doing the wrong thing in leaving; the same feeling you get when you break up with a very wholesome lover even though there is really nothing wrong with them. Although I suspect in the case of Busan, the spark will always be there.
You’ve played with a variety of bands and musicians here- what have been some impressions of your musical experiences?
The music scene has grown from virtually nothing to something which is quite vibrant and which is currently offering up lots of variety and talent. I expect that this will just continue to blossom. I’ve played with some wonderful people formally and informally and have been so incredibly blessed to have had the chance to get to know these people through music while learning how to be a better musician through and with them. I love the fact that finally, in One Drop East, I have had the luxury and delight to have played with some of my favourite humans on the planet. I can’t tell you how much those guys mean to me. I’m going to be grieving the loss of being involved with that band for a very long time.
Any favorite moments?
Every Saturday afternoon band practice when I got to hang out with my boys (in One Drop East), play cool tunes and laugh and laugh. That’s as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned.
Do you feel there is something unique about the Busan music scene?
I think that there is a camaraderie among bands and musicians here that negates a lot of potential competition, and therefore negative experiences. I hope the bands in Busan’s future will see the value of that and maintain it, and I hope that the relationship between the foreigner-centred bands and the local ones continues to grow and eventually becomes seamless. Everyone has things to learn from each other.
There are still enough opportunities to play here and the scene is not too big yet, that bands and individual musicians who are relatively inexperienced and need performance practice still have the chance to get that experience. I’ll always be grateful for that being the case while I was here. With that said, there is an incredible pool of talent and experience too, and I think that talent would stand up anywhere in the world.
Busan audiences are unusually generous and supportive which, while being dangerously addictive, is fantastic for learning what works and doesn’t work in your music, without having to endure the pretence and negative attitudes of more established and self-conscious scenes. Musicians here shouldn’t take that for granted for one minute. Enjoy it while it lasts, people!
On Saturday night, March 31st, One Drop East and friends will be celebrating Angela Crebbin at the Vinyl Underground in Kyungsung. This is a show you do not want to miss!