"A nineteen-year-old kid who started singing because she loved songs. Songs were my friends, in sorrow or in pain." (from 'Even After I Leave' in <Yang Hee Eung·30>)
Yang Hee Eun, who debuted at the age of 19 with the song 'Morning Dew' in 1971, celebrated her 30th anniversary as a singer with a new album entitled <Yang Hee Eung·30.> Her wish to fill the album with pure folk music that flows from the courage to face the world armed with just a guitar, bore fruit in a special way through her encounter with a woman named Chu Hee Sook.
Yang, who has been hosting the popular radio program <Women's Times> since 1999, received a letter from Chu Hee Sook, a forty-year-old terminally ill cancer patient who had written to wish her six-year-old son a happy birthday. Reading the women's letters containing her regretful and yet reverential outlook on the last days of her life, Yang decided to dedicate her 30th anniversary album to the memory of this woman.
"My heart just broke as I heard her life story. So many sisters on this land have left home to work in the big cities to support their families, living like church mice in order to send home as much money as possible. The rougher their hands and hearts got, the better the fates of their families became, the higher their brothers climbed the education ladder. That is the way women in their forties and fifties spent their youth. That is why I wanted to cheer and comfort these countless women, for the hardship they have endured from young, even though I'm no older than them. Actually, my life has been like that, so in a way I also wanted to give my younger self a big hug."
The album begins and ends with the first and last letters that Chu Hee Sook mailed to <Women's Times. > The songs in between are meant to cheer up people struggling to withstand the hardship and fatigue of life. Yang has always been a part of radio broadcasting since her debut in 1971. The veteran singer confesses that she discovered hope in the life stories of the simple people she met through her career as a radio DJ, and that it was that hope that kept her singing all these years, cherishing the belief that the world was a warm place.
Yang's career as a singer was fraught with difficulties. Her debut song 'Morning Dew' was banned by the government, and other songs in her first and second album such as 'The Day,' 'Mother! Mother!' 'The Road to Seoul,' 'The Small Pond' and 'White Dog' stopped going on-air since 1974. From the 200-odd songs that she has sung over the years, some 30 songs were banned. She was subject to constant telephone bugging and surveillance ever since the government put her on its 'watch list.' Security agents dragged her away for interrogation on her way home from the radio station, and in 1977, she was pressured to quit in the middle of her job as the DJ of Christian Broadcasting Station's radio program <Us.>
Forced by outside factors to quit singing, she worked for a while in a sewing export company. But she never gave up singing. She returned to her beloved profession in 1983 with the self-written song 'White Magnolias' and got back her job as a radio DJ as well. And in 1984, the ban was lifted on all her songs. Despite the hardships she faced as a singer, Yang was able to carry on singing for 30 years thanks to her in-born spirit.
"I start overflowing with energy when someone tries to trip me up. Getting tackled starts me going. Without that tackle, complacency sets in. So in a way, the more pressure I get, the healthier my life becomes and the more energy I gather. I'm just built like that. Strong."
Many of her fans wonder what kind of music she would have produced if she had been a singer-song-writer. But on this point she is adamant. "Song-writing is a gift, a talent. Not anybody who learns the theory can succeed at it. I can write lyrics. I have been trying since the 70s. I want my words to go with the songs I sing. But the melody is a different matter. I don't think I'm cut out for that."
I wanted to cheer and comfort these countless women, for the hardships they have endured from young, even though I'm no older than them
Yang, regarded as the 'leader of culture for youths' in the 70s, is now nicknamed 'pioneer of culture for the middle-aged,' 'spokeswoman of azoomas.' In other words, she has been singing for her contemporaries for 30 years. She firmly believes that that is the way to repay the love she has received over the 30 years, the only natural thing to do for her contemporaries who have been deprived of the good things that should have been theirs to enjoy. Yang's work is all the more worthy in a society sorely lacking the space or software through which azoomas can fulfill their cultural needs. Her live concerts in College Street, with meaningful titles such as <Hubby, Let's Not Give Up,> <We are Now Climbing the Mountain of Limits,> <Azooma Gets Lost in College Street> and <Winter Alumni Reunion,> have been outlets for azoomas to escape their drudgery, meeting places for them to visit with their neighbors or meet up with old high school classmates.
"Azoomas have all this energy. But they don't know how to direct their energy. That's when it becomes important to capture your childhood dreams, and cultivate your very own hobby."
Yang confesses that she had a hard time going over the hill of 49. She now wants to slow down her tempo and enjoy life at a slower pace. And she does not want to dwell on her past. Ready to charge on to a new task, the seasoned singer makes a New Year wish that she hopes will come true for The Women's News readers.
"In a world full of male chauvinists, women have to look out for each other. In the New Year, I hope we can stop saying that women's worst enemy is women. That is my wish."