Sewol ferry victims memorialized with music | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 13.04.2017
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Sewol ferry victims memorialized with music

Jisu Yun was a young girl who lived near the site of a 2014 South Korean ferry disaster that killed over 300 people. Still deeply affected by the tragedy, she produced an album in commemoration. DW spoke with her.

 Schülerin Jisu Yun in ihrem Zimmer in Südkorea. (privat)

Jisu's musical commemoration reflects the attitude of South Koreans toward the tragedy

It was a Wednesday morning when the news broke of a ferry capsizing with 476 people, near Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea. More than 300 people were killed, most of them high-school students who were on a class trip.

As it turns out, the tragedy could have been prevented. The ferry was heavily overloaded and after it began to sink, evacuation was far too slow as a result of poor rescue management. In the aftermath, information was withheld that corruption and profits evidently were placed at a higher value than the security of the passengers.

The mix of failure and criminality turned the sinking of the Sewol into a crisis of conscience in South Korea.

Jisu Yun, who was a middle school student on the island at the time, heard about the accident on the morning news. "It was a great shock for me that over 300 high school students drowned on a trip to Jeju Island, and that I lived on that island," Jisu said. "It impacted me greatly and since then, I can't forget it."

Three years have passed since the accident and Jisu is now herself a high school student. Although she didn't know any of the victims personally, she is still affected by the tragedy. She decided that she needed to express her sympathy to the families of the victims.

"I wanted to express condolences to the victims and their families," she said. "And I wanted to spread awareness of this disaster across the world, telling them we should not forget and not let something like this happen again."

A musical memorial

Jisu is a hobby musician and in her free time she produces music with the help of free apps. She decided that she was going to express her feelings on the sinking of the Sewol by telling the story of what happened with music.

She began in May 2016 and the project was completed in March. She was able to recruit composers and musicians from around the world to participate after posting an article about her idea online.

"I posted an article about this album project in a site called Newgrounds.com where creators gather to make projects," she said. "I was worried that no one would volunteer to help me, but some composers read the story and contacted me, so it went better than I expected."

The songs on the album are all instrumental; two of them she composed herself. The album titled April 16th (0416) can be seen on YouTube. It contains 14 tracks and is interspersed with news reports from the incident read in English.

The sinking - in major and minor

Jisu said the album is made up of two parts. "In part one, I arranged the songs to go with the story of the tragedy and tell the viewers how it unfolded," she said.

The first tracks are upbeat and symbolize the students excitement for the class trip. Then the tone changes and the music gets darker. The sinking has begun, and the fear of the students as the tragedy unfolds is expressed in sound. This is followed by the desperation of the parents, anger at those responsible and sadness.

The second part of the album is made up of expressions of sympathy for the victims. "I asked the composers to stick to the story, but be free in any composition they wanted to express," said Jisu. "So there are different kinds of genres inside the album."

Since the incident, Jisu moved to the capital city Seoul. In her high school library, she discovered the book "Recording Sewol Ferry" from Oh Jun-Ho. "In this book there were recordings of the survivor's testimonies, and the debate statements," she said. "This book helped me to narrate the tragedy, and to create a storyline."

The songs are also about what happened to individual victims and in the compositions, Jisu gave the Korean victims English names to make it easier for listeners around the world to understand.

The soothing power of music

Jisu has not yet had any contact with survivors of families of victims - even though the album is somewhat intended for them. For her personally, the album was a way to cope with her own feelings about the Sewol tragedy.

"It was painful at the beginning," she said. "But the album gave me comfort by sharing this sad disaster with others. It was like the famous saying, 'Sharing joy increases joy, sharing sorrow decreases sorrow.'"

The initial reaction to April 16th (0416) have been positive said Jisu. "Many people were amazed at my work, and asked me how I could have done this by myself," she said. "And they also gave their own condolences to the victims and said that they would never forget the tragedy."

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