BUSAN, South Korea — Hajimama has become, without a doubt, one of Busan’s most recognizable bands. Since their debut gig on New Year’s Eve, 2007, they’ve put out two successful albums, toured all of South Korea and are one of the city’s only bands with the distinction of having their work covered by other expats. But transience is the nature of the beast in this music scene, and, despite their success, the band’s drummer, Andrew Kiely, has decided to leave the country, leaving Hajimama, as we know it, to reluctantly hang up their guitars.
If you’ve ever heard a Hajimama song, you’d know it instantly. That’s their niche: a vast arsenal of original comedic lyrics, written by frontmen Collwyn Craig and Daniel Panozzo, that center on expat life in South Korea. They’re known for song topics like acquiring an F2-visa or early morning parties in PNU (while most of the crowd knows all the words), and their performances are always peppered by their tongue-in-cheek banter in Korean, English and Konglish. Hajimama without the lyrics is like Facebook without friends, summarized bassist Im Gook.
The progression of Hajimama’s songs can be heard in the quality of their recorded albums. The raw sound of the group’s 2008 debut album, Banned from North Korea, represented their more improvised nature that leaned towards an open mic personality. Their second album, 2011’s Abandon Seoul, vastly contrasted this with a tight and polished sound. (This was partly due to the fact that original drummer Eddie Pauler left the country and took the original record with him, forcing the band to re-record it.)
Panozzo feels that, in the process of evolving into a more professional band, Hajimama may have lost part of their charm but gained musical maturity. What was originally a band of simple three-note power chords had been replaced by complicated guitar riffs, bass slapping and drum solos. The band is currently recording their third and final album at Club Realize (whose professional engineers continue to tighten the band’s sound), which is due to be released later this year, to coincide with their final gig.
And their outside projects have been thriving: Craig’s experimental guitar playing, as expressed in his recent Loops and Laptops group (which greatly influenced the sound of Hajimama’s later material), will take his musical priority, while Panozzo had already been a part of other Busan bands, including London Scat Party and Soonsu and in the Innocents.
Hajimama have thrived because of how easily accessible they are for Korean audiences, and instantly relatable they are to foreigners with a little Korean language skill. At the heart of their music is comedy, but the band differs from many other comedians who satire expat life in South Korea. Lyrics like Garlic-breathed, soju-drunk, subway ajeosshi, may be rooted in a foreigner’s daily oddities, but rather than denouncing these aspects, Hajimama celebrates them.
They champion memories of not knowing how long you’re supposed to hold an old man’s hand, or pondering whether the sexy being on a coffee advertisement is male or female. As one of the longest-running expat bands whose popularity has been propelled by purely original songs is an achievement that they should, and can, be proud of.
Listen to their music at their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/hajimamabusan
You can read Liam Cullivan’s review of ‘Abandon Seoul’ on Haps here.
Check out Hajimama this weekend when they open up for the Asian tour of Taiwan rock band The Islanders on both Friday and Saturday night.
Photos courtesy of Hajimama