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Heart of the mountains

ANN/THE STAR – It is said the Koreans have long been expressing their sentiments through music and song. One such example is the Jeongseon Arirang.

Handed down over many generations, the Jeongseon Arirang is a much-treasured folk song that has been around for more than a century.

The traditional song was named after the mountainous county of Jeongseon in South Korea’s Gangwon province, which is also said to be the birthplace of the song.

The song encapsulates all aspects of life: Living and dying, love and separation, as well as steadfastness and perseverance. When life was difficult back in the day, the people turned to singing to uplift their spirits.

Jeongseon Arirang is the heartbeat of the country, embodying the people’s determination to push through adversity. The song is made up of two parts: Gin Arirang and Yeokkeum Arirang. According to Korean tourist guide Cindy Minju, who spoke to a group of journalists during a media trip to Gangwon recently, both parts of the song can either be sung slowly to evoke a feeling of sorrow, or merrily as a celebration of life.

“The song became an anthem for the people. It evokes feelings of sadness to some and joy to others, like a vessel of emotions,” Minju said.

The mountainous county of Jeongseon in Gangwon. South Korea. PHOTO: THE STAR

A translated excerpt of the lyrics to the folk song goes:

“Whether my husband is handsome or ugly,

Whether his face is pitted with pockmarks, his leg is stiff, or his arm is deformed, Carrying an A-frame of juniper wood on his back with three hundred brass coins on it,

He has gone to Gangneung and Samcheok to buy salt,

I hope he comes back safely through the winding Baekbongnyeong Pass.”

When sung by one person, Minju said, it is with a slow and relaxed beat. But when performed together with others, Jeongseon Arirang can actually have a similar style to that of Western rap music.

The traditional song incorporates high and low notes with a prolonged and monotonous melody.

“The narrow pitch range is a representation of the unique culture of the people living in the remote, mountainous areas of Jeongseon,” Minju said. According to the Jeongseon Arirang Culture Foundation, there are currently thousands of versions of the lyrics produced on record, in varied genres and styles.


Jeongseon Arirang originated from arirang, another lyrical folk song that has been sung for over 600 years.

The song came into being during the Joseon Dynasty (1392) and was believed to be composed by scholars. In ancient Korean language, the word ‘Arirang’ translates to ‘my beloved one’.

Though the origins of the song remains a mystery, Arirang is still being sung and performed today.

In fact, it is an important part of modern Korean art and entertainment, according to Unesco. Arirang was inscribed on Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2012.

In 2016, a museum dedicated to Arirang was opened to the public in Jeongseon, as a means to preserve and promote the song to the younger generation, as well as to visitors.