Usually marketed to foreigners as “Korean opera”, pansori (판소리) performances are a modern-day derivative of the country’s shamanist past. Songs and incantations chanted to fend off evil spirits or ensure a good harvest slowly mutated over the years into ritualized presentations; the themes evolved, too, with tales of love and despair replacing requests to spirits unseen.

A good pansori may go on for hours, but each segment will be performed by a cast of just two – a female singer (소리꾼; sorikkun) and a male percussionist (고수; gosu). The sorikkun holds aloft a paper fan, which she folds, unfolds and waves about to emphasize lyrics or a change of scene. While the gosu drums out his minimalist finger taps on the janggo, he gives his singer words – or, more commonly, grunts – of encouragement known as chuimsae, to which the audience are expected to add their own. The most common are “chalhanda!” and “olshi-gu!”, which are roughly equivalent to “you’re doing good!” and “hm!”, a grunt acknowledging appreciation, usually delivered with a refined nod. Just follow the Korean lead, and enjoy the show.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

South Korea features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

19 places to get utterly lost

19 places to get utterly lost

One of the great joys of travelling is stumbling across unexpected places, wandering without a single destination in mind and embracing the journey. These place…

12 Sep 2017 • Keith Drew camera_alt Gallery
Seoul food: the transformation of a neighbourhood

Seoul food: the transformation of a neighbourhood

Itaewon, a neighbourhood in the South Korean capital Seoul, is on the up and food is at the forefront of its renaissance. Here Amy Guttman explores a district u…

14 Jan 2016 • Amy Guttman insert_drive_file Article
Would you get down and dirty at South Korea’s Mud Festival?

Would you get down and dirty at South Korea’s Mud Festival?

What once began as a marketing ploy for a therapeutic mud found near Boryeong, a small city on South Korea’s sandy west coast, has since transformed into a un…

17 Jul 2015 • Colt St. George insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month