Luna Lee rocks SXSW with traditional Korean Gayageum instrument

Luna Lee’s music has a global audience with more than 17 million views on YouTube. Photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman

Luna Lee isn’t just a musician – she’s a pioneer. As the one and only gayageum rocker, she’s managed to bring a traditional Korean zither-like string instrument into the 21st century by redesigning it to fit her love of rock music. Seoul-based Lee developed a custom gayageum to play everything from Pink Floyd songs to Jimi Hendrix, which has earned her scores of loyal fans on YouTube.

At her South by Southwest performance at the Victorian Room at the Driskill, she captivated audiences with her command of the ancient instrument, which rested on a stand as she plucked away with fierce intensity.

“I love to play rock music,” she said sweetly from the stage.

Lee moved from rock and blues covers including Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” to traditional Korean folk songs (so that we heard what the instrument typically sounds like, she said) to her own moving original music. Lee was joined by four other musicians, including three from Austin who stepped in after funding fell through for her own band.

Lee almost didn’t make it to SXSW. The Korean government pulled its funding of her trip to the festival after realizing that she was not a K-Pop performer. However, her fans came together to help her raise enough money to travel here anyway.

“I was a little nervous about this showcase,” she said from the stage after rousing cheers and applause. “But now, I’m just happy.”

 


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