Lynda hits the high notes in Korea with her native band
Gorey's Lynda Cullen was busking in Dublin recently with her friends, when a group of excited Koreans came up chattering excitedly. They then ran off to their hotel, grabbed their video cameras and returned to take pictures of Lynda and her fellow band members. Irish passers-by looked on in bemusement.
Lynda Cullen is one of Gorey's best kept secrets. She's well known to family and friends, but to everyone else here, she's a perfect stranger. Yet Lynda Cullen is big in South Korea.
Yes, the now 27 year old, who went over to South Korea to teach English five years ago, has found herself as the lead singer in a Korean band, Tubonjje Tal, or 'Second Moon', which won Best Newcomer, Best Jazz Crossover, and Album of the Year at the Korean Music Awards this year.
Their album released last year has done very well in the charts, and she has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and on television and radio programmes, so much so that she has become a household name in her adopted country. They also released the album on DVD and they have played at various festivals, including performing at a Peace Concert at the Demilitarized Zone at the border with North Korea.
Lynda recently took her fellow band members home on a visit. The versatile Korean musicians had taught themselves to play Irish music, and they headed in to French's in Gorey recently to join in a session with trad group Aris. They then went off on a tour of Ireland, culminating in a trip to the All Ireland Fleadh Ceoil in Letterkenny.
When we spoke to Lynda last week, she was making the long journey south from Donegal to her family home. Her parents Willie and Sandra are delighted to have her home, as is her twin sister Suzanne who is also a talented singer and has sung with the Dublin Gospel Choir and the Arklow Gospel Choir.
Lynda is hoping to base herself at home in Ireland from now on, but with a blossoming music career in South Korea, she will return regularly for concerts and other work. Second Moon are planning to record another album next year.
Before she left, Second Moon performed a farewell concert in Seoul in front of 2,000 fans. Not only was Lynda returning home, but the band's drummer was taking up two years' obligatory military service. However, like all great artists, they are planning a reunion concert at Christmas.
Lynda had three guitar lessons at the age of fifteen, and taught herself everything else. She used to play music with her sister, before she headed off to the other side of the world.
Luckily she took her guitar with her, and soon met professional musicians there. 'I initially went over there to teach English,' she explained. 'A few years ago I met a guy, who is the Bob Dylan in Korea, and I did a song with him. Then I met other musicians and we started a band'.
'They are trained jazz musicians who are interested in world music. They play all different types of music, so they learned a few Irish tunes before they came over here. Now they write Irish tunes,' she added.
'When they came over to Ireland, we would go into a bar and ask can we join in on a session, and we'd get a funny look, but as soon as they started playing, we got free pints and got asked to come back the next night,' she laughed. 'We're signed to EMI in South Korea, and we released our first album 'Second Moon' in March 2005. This year we got three awards at the Korean Music awards.'
When she tells her friends back home what she's doing, she's often met with bemused looks. 'When people ask what am I doing, I feel like lying and telling them I'm a teacher in Athlone,' she smiled. 'I don't think they believe me when I tell them what I'm really doing. They make jokes about being 'Big in Japan'.'
Visa problems meant she had to sit out some concerts, as she was only permitted to either teach, or play music. She was given an exit order in April, because she played at a concert without the correct performing visa, and then waited a month for the correct documents to arrive. She then had to travel to Japan every month to renew the one month performing visa.
'I suppose you could say I'm a bit of a star over there, as I do get recognised on the street,' she added. Second Moon first shot to fame when their music was used as the soundtrack to a Korean television drama called 'Ireland.'
'People over there are really opening up to Irish music,' she explained. The other band members, Hyun Bo Kim, Hye Ri Park, Jin Kyung Choi, Jin Woo Park, Yoon Jung Cho, and Sun Yeul Baek, play guitars, drums, piano, keyboard, melodeon, accordion, bazooki, mandolin, whistles and the sitar. Lynda also plays the bodhran.
She described Second Moon's music as a fusion of World Music. All of the band members, including Lynda, have written some tracks on the album. She's also working on a solo project at the moment.
They enjoyed their first session in French's so much, that they returned the following week. 'Everyone was so kind,' she said. 'The Koreans couldn't believe how open and friendly everyone was.'
Lynda brought over several hundred copies of her album, but they sold out from their busking in Dublin. She hopes to get more sent over so local people can get their hands on a copy.
For the future, she knows it will be a hard slog to make a name for herself in Ireland. For now, she will be very happy to live in relative anonymity at home, and then to jet off for a few weeks at a time to perform to adoring audiences in South Korea.