Youn Sun Nah. I imagine that is a name most of you are hearing for the first time. I recently discovered this artist-visionary-vocalist when I clicked on a link in a promotional email from her booking agent. Lucky for me that I did!
While Youn Sun Nah is relatively unknown to most of us in North America, she is well loved in Europe and Asia. This Korean-born artist comes from a musical family—her father is a conductor and her mother a musical actress—and had made quite an impression on the Korean music scene when she headed for Paris in 1995 to study at the CIM Jazz School and later the National Music Institute of Beauvais and the Nadia and Lili Boulanger Conservatory.
She is truly a world singer. Not only is she completely fluent in Korean, French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, but in her concerts and recordings, she effortlessly flows in and out of all them, as if any of them could be her first language.
Her website lists her many impressive achievements and awards, so I will simply share what I love about this important artist. Her voice is clear and sweet and beautiful and growling and terrifying as needed, with at least a 5-octave range. Her phrasing is full of passion and yearning and virtue, and sometimes sadness and fear. All of this is made possible because of her huge creative mind. To hear the depth of her vocal purity, listen to the title track of Same Girl. A video of a live concert version is available on her website.
Her approach to improvisation, phrasing and rhythm is so unique. Her choice of accompaniment is unconventional too, and ranges from guitar, accordion and bass all the way to cello, music box and loop station. What the recordings and live performances lack in actual percussion instruments is compensated for by her own outstanding vocal rhythmic and percussive phrasing ability.
In 2005, the French magazine Le Monde described Youn Sun Nah as “a UFO touching the universe of jazz with a magnificent voice and passionate originality.” Listen to “Momento Magico” from her 2013 CD Lento and you will know what that statement means.
Youn Sun Nah’s risk-taking as an artist stretches my imagination and that inspires me. As Winnipeg audiences get more familiar with adventurous artists like her, our own artists feel encouraged to push themselves further out of their own comfort zones to discover new worlds.