Remember the song ‘Koi Yahan Aha Nache Nache’ from the Mithun Chakraborty film Disco Dancer? It has a fancy K-pop version now. A South Korean artiste, in outfits quirky and colourful, walks the streets of Mumbai belting out the song’s signature hook ‘Auva, Auva’, as he blends Korean lyrics into the original’s tune and tempo. The performer is Aoora, a South Korean singer-composer who is fast carving a niche in mixing Indian tunes with his own work and those of others.
Born Park Min-jun, Aoora is 37―perhaps a tad too mature for K-pop’s feverishly youth-obsessed fandom. But Aoora does have his porcelain skin and boyish looks that belie his years.
No one really introduced Aoora to Hindi songs. It was during a random internet session that he stumbled upon the song ‘Cham, Cham’ from the 2016 film Baaghi. “I was captivated by its energy,” he says. “That is how my interest in Indian music, especially Hindi songs, began.”
Aoora says he was always interested in approaching music with “innovation”. He was 13 when he discovered his passion for music, and 16 when he began formal training. Music shows on television had taught him the basics.
He discovered a deeper connect with songs in Hindi (and other Indian languages, as he later found out). “What immediately resonated with me was their vibrant energy, catchy rhythms and effective use of chorus, all of which are distinctive features of K-pop,” he says.
He noted the differences, too. “Korean music is more focused. For instance, there will be a particular rhythmic pattern throughout the song, concentrating on a specific element. In contrast, Hindi music is upbeat and high-energy… created on a much grander scale, with rhythmic changes throughout,” says Aoora.
With his unique musical sense, Aoora is going places. The Uttar Pradesh tourism department recently announced that he and fellow K-pop artiste DJ Fridayy will be performing a string of concerts across the state from September 12 to 27. The department said it was “thrilled to announce a momentous cultural celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and South Korea.” All concerts, it said, would be held in educational institutions―a good choice given the demography of India’s K-pop fan base.
Aoora roughly means ‘feelings’ in Korean. He says he does not know much about diplomacy or politics, but he feels that he can contribute to deepening the good rapport that India and South Korea share.
New Delhi and Seoul had signed a twin-city agreement in 2017, looking to increase cooperation on matters related to culture, tourism, environment, education, sanitation, public health and youth affairs. A much deeper association is the ‘sister city’ agreement between Ayodhya and Gimhae in South Korea. Legend has it that an Indian princess, Suriratna, married King Suro of Geumgwan Gaya, a powerful city-state in ancient Korea. The couple founded the Karak dynasty, to which more than six million present-day Koreans trace their roots. Near Ayodhya’s Ram Katha Park is a memorial to the legendary mother queen, who is known as Heo Hwang-ok in Korea.
The sister city agreement between Ayodhya and Gimhae was signed in 2000. “Many people in Korea may not be aware of it,” says Aoora. “Music has the power to nourish and maintain this strong connection.”
Does the label of being a cultural ambassador weigh heavy on him? No, says Aoorah. The aoora, he says, are of “happiness and pride”―that his “small contribution” could boost the warm ties between India and South Korea. “I would like to [have] more collaborations by blending musical elements from both the countries,” he says.
This is Aoora’s third visit to India, and his music is steadily gaining popularity here. “Meeting people who love music and attend my concerts brings me immense joy,” he says.
In UP, he looks forward to learning more about Indian culture. Anything that scares him? “Navigating unknown roads always frightens me, especially in a place that I am not familiar with,” says Aoora.
He says he has only a “beginner-level” understanding of Hindi. His list of Indian favourites include Shilpa Rao and Ash King. His favourite composer? Pritam. And, of course, Bappi Lahiri. “Bappi da”, he says, has a “special place” in his heart.
Aoora’s most popular mashup has been of ‘Main Tera Boyfriend’ (Raabta, 2017) and ‘Euphoria’ (by BTS member Jung-kook in 2018). But his favourites keep changing. The current one is ‘Chaleya’, from Shah Rukh Khan’s latest release Jawan. In the pipeline are mashups of Tamil, Telugu and Punjabi songs.
His bourgeoning base of fans call themselves Aurians. Their love and affection, says Aoora, has him “deeply honoured”. “They are energetic and vibrant,” he says. “Together, we create an atmosphere of high-voltage energy during live shows.”