2020 In Review: Day 11 – Crossover and World

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2020 In Review

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul
5. Rock and Alternative
6. Rap and Hip-hop
7. Dance and Electronic
8. Pop and Ballad
9. Folk and Country
10. Jazz and Blues
11. Crossover and World
12. Best Collaborative Work
13. Rookie Artist of the Year
14. Artist of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

2020 was a particularly meaningful year for Korean traditional and fusion music, both the quantity and quality of work prompting a double take. They deservedly dominate our list as well, but as always, today’s post is also peppered with excellent contributions from many genres including classical, tango, reggae, opera, new age, Latin jazz, Hawaiian, Brazilian voz-e-violao, Irish, and more.

The “next-best ten” and honorable mention lists are sorted by artist name.

The 2020 Crossover and World Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Crossover and World Album 2020

Leenalchi – 수궁가 (Sugungga)

The Korean-traditional and traditional-fusion scene is vibrant, but it’d be a stretch to say that it’s even mildly popular. So Leenalchi finding mainstream success over the past year or so was an unbelievable achievement, and Sugungga was a debut album well worth that hype. A musical reinterpretation of the pansori folk tale of the same name, the album followed the saga of a royal courtier turtle’s journey to secure a cure for the Dragon King’s illness. The fact that the tracks are not placed chronologically and skip chunks of the story (making it difficult to follow unless you know how it goes already) reinforces the notion that Sugungga is more about the visceral listening experience.

In Leenalchi’s telling, the dense and archaic language became another instrument, a vehicle for percussive and richly layered sonic delivery by the pansori crew. The bass-and-drum arrangements, performed in part by former SsingSsing members Jang Young-gyu and Lee Cheol-hee, were astonishingly expressive just by themselves. But as the vocalists dramatically sang and spoke and rapped the tale, these chapters absorbed the underlying groove of pansori and grew into playful earworms and simmering epics of a kind we’d never heard before. It seems like the bar for fusion music gets raised every year, but the one that Leenalchi set may stand for a while.

The Runner-up

Chudahye Chagis – 오늘밤 당산나무 아래서 (Underneath the Dangsan Tree Tonight)

This category is a sweep by SsingSsing alumni, as former vocalist Chu Da-hye’s project is our second pick on the album side. (Yet another Ssingssing vocalist, Lee Heemoon, led both Korean Men 2nd and OBSG in our “First Ten Out”, making this perhaps the strongest showing by one band’s alumni ever.) Chudahye Chagis coined the term “funkgut” (funk + gut, referring to the Korean shamanistic rites) to describe the aim of Underneath the Dangsan Tree Tonight, and the album was indeed filled with spirited mystique. Harnessing influences as diverse as dub and hip-hop, Chagis transplanted the restless energy of the gut into an intricate modern cauldron; Chu then took over in the characteristically tumultuous vocals of Korean traditional music. Gut is at its core a wishful and yearning ritual, but Chudahye Chagis’ take did it with charismatic performances and fertile instrumentation. It wasn’t just surreal, it was revolutionary.

The First Ten Out

Ak Dan Gwang Chill – 인생 꽃 같네 (Such Is Life)

Coreyah – 박수무곡 (Clap & Applause)

Eunyong Sim – 잔영 (Afterglow)

Lee Heemoon & Prelude – 한국남자 2집 (Korean Men 2nd)

OBSG – 오방神과 (OBSG)

Park Hey-li – 잃어버린 블루 (Missing Blue)

Park Soon A – 찬 (燦 Become Radiant)

Sangheum – 마주한 거울 (Odd Squared Circle)

Shin Hantae and the Reggae Soul – Ark of Ideals

YunyByeolgok – Just Go


Best Crossover and World Song 2020

Leenalchi – 범 내려온다 (Tiger Is Coming)
Written/composed/arranged by Leenalchi

“Addictive” is not a word often used to describe traditional fusion, but it was the best adjective for “Tiger Is Coming”. The funky and liberating accompaniment, pulsing without rest and sticking like glue, readily invited the head nods and shimmies. The lyrics were a good example of Sugungga‘s relaxed treatment of the narrative, as explained above. They describe what happened after the protagonist turtle accidentally called down a tiger instead of the hare, but rewritten and extended to accommodate the sentence “Tiger is coming down” as a repeating hook. The purely descriptive, scene-setting lyrics didn’t really progress the story, but did a fantastic job of imparting mood: the tiger is coming, and here’s how that feels, how the world seems to react.

But for all that, it really just came down to the hook. The dramatic, overlapping performances of Leenalchi’s vocalists and the gradual intensity meshed inexplicably well with the absurdity of this damn tiger coming down for like five minutes straight. So “Tiger Is Coming” became a meme sensation, and also presented a legitimate future direction of fusion music.

The Runner-up

Ak Dan Gwang Chill – 노자노자 (Nozanoza)
Written/composed/arranged by Ak Dan Gwang Chill

There have been more than a few attempts to merge rock into traditional music, most notably the sterling discography of Jambinai, but Ak Dan Gwang Chill do it without using few, if any, modern instruments. That approach made possible unique sounds like “Nozanoza”, a psychedelic-rock romp where gayageum and ajaeng entirely replaced the shrill and thick textures of guitars to stunning effect. This construction was striking from the opening seconds as the pounding groove of string, drum, and flute entered us into a kind of trance. Despite the hypnotic din each element of the ensemble had a unique character that made it easy to follow, and the nuanced performances made it rewarding to do so (check out the majestic swagger of the ajaeng’s strings drawing in the breakdown about three minutes in). True to its title of “let’s play”, “Nozanoza”‘s explosive energy made for a rocking good time.

The First Ten Out

2nd Moon – Journey to the Light

Chudahye Chagis – 사는새 (Soul Birds)

Dongyang Gozupa – Creature

Han Hee-jung – Another Inspiration

Hngin – 용반봉일 (Dragon and Phoenix Will Rise) (Feat. Hunger Noma, Woohanryang)

JeHee – Sighișoara

Lee Heemoon & Prelude – 제비가 (Jebi-ga)

OBSG – 허송세월말어라 (Heosongsewol Marura)

Park Hey-li – 잃어버린 블루 (Missing Blue)

Roots Redeem – 샤먼락 (Shaman Rock)

Honorable Mentions


Awilu – Venthaus
Band Bower – Cosmos
Banda Oi – Andantino
Barim – 그라데이션 (Gradation)
Diving Flow – Just Like a Lion
Earrang – Refresh
Gena Tango – Gena
Geum Yu-bi – 은가비여울 (Eungabi Yeowool)
Hangcarpet – 420
Happy People – Home
Hngin – 바람 (Prajna)
Hong Haeran – 희망가 (Song of Hope)
Hyeon-woo Park – Parchestra Vol. 1
Jart – Wind Sketch
JeHee – On The Wind (Ethnic Project_Europe)
Kekoa – Hawaiian Sunset
Kim Ho-joong – 1819
Nubim – Chapel of Light
Ory Jeon Jihyeon – Ory 전지현의 Timeless (Timeless of Ory)
Own & Bustabomb – Ragga Fyah
Roots Redeem – 문 (門) (Door)
Soorin – The Time of Us
South Carnival – Cloud9
Sunju Park – 자연을 담고, 자연을 닮다. (Embrace Nature, Embody Nature)
Vidan – 도깨비 (Goblin)
Viola Lora – Extra-Ordinary Life
Yiruma – Room With a View
Yun Hyeon-myeong & Seo Ju-won – Ola


Ak Dan Gwang Chill – 밤중에 (Bingle Bingle)
Ak Dan Gwang Chill – 북청 (The Dance of Lions)
Banda Oi – 아름다운 숲 (Linda Floresta)
Boheme – 여름이 온다 (Summer)
Chudahye Chagis – 비나수+ (Binasoo+)
Chudahye Chagis – 차지S차지 (Chagi’s Chagi)
Coreyah – 먼동이 틀 때 (When the Sun Rises)
Coreyah – 왔니 (How Far You’ve Come)
Diving Flow – Diving to Flow
Earrang – Refresh
Eunyong Sim – 검은 고요속에도 (Silence of Darkness)
Fusion Gukak Ensemble Su – 풍류살롱 (Art Salon)
Gena Tango – 묘서뎐 – ‘고양이와 쥐’ (Cat and Mouse)
Geum Yu-bi – 아향가 (Ahhyang-ga)
Han Hee-jung – 양배추즙 (Cabbage Juice)
Han Hee-jung – 재구성 (Reconstitution)
Hangcarpet – 태초 (The Beginning of the World) (Feat. Kim Bada)
Happy People – Home
Hashigeyo – Just for You (With Nick)
Ji Park – La Femme
Jisun Seong – Groomy
Jo Dong-ik – 파란 베개 (Blue Pillow)
Jung Dae-seok, Jeongga Ensemble Soul-jiggy – Flower Blooms
Jung Mi-jung – 하랑 (Harang)
Kim Ho-joong – Monsoon
Ko Yeong-yeol – 이룰수없는 (Couldn’t Love)
Lee Bal-cha – 7th Room
Lee Heemoon & Prelude – 방물가 (Bangmul-ga)
Lee Heemoon & Prelude – 선유가 (Seonyu-ga)
Leenalchi – 별주부가 울며 여짜오되 (Crying Softshell Turtle)
Lucid Fall – 산책 갈까? (The Promenade) (Feat. Ludvig Cimbrelius)
MoonyCuumy – 꽃봉오리 (Flower Bud)
NST & the Soul Sauce meets Kim Yulhee – (Who Knows) The Swallow Knows
Ory Jeon Jihyeon – 몽중죽림 (Mongjoongjuklim)
Paradise – 연 (Fate)
Park Hey-li – Nor-way
Park Hey-li – 이별의 무늬 (Shape Made by Goodbyes)
P-Dul x JINS – Revenge
sEODo – 이별가 (Farewell Song)
Shin Hantae and the Reggae Soul – Nothing for Love
Sia Yoon – Spanish Rose
Si-Hwang – 어른 (That’s Not Your Fault)
Siwoo – Feel the Rhythm
So Hee Song – 밀양아리랑 (Miryang Arirang: A Precious Flower)
Soorin – Summer
Soula Choi – Moonlight
South Carnival – Chaos (Feat. Im Hyunjong)
South Carnival – Wishes (Feat. Joo Misung)
Sunji Lee – Snow
Sunju Park – 가을에서 겨울로 2악장: 비 (From Fall to Winter 2nd Movement: Rain)
Tango Collectivo – Primera Cancion
Vidan – 태양의 나라 (경복궁) (Land of the Sun (Gyeongbokgung))
Viola Lora – Spring Shower
Voyeur – And Tell You It’s Alright Part 2
Woong San – 아리바 아리바 (Arriba Arriba)
Yewon – 애증 (Love and Hate) (Feat. Mori)
Yoo Mi Young & Daniel Scheffman – 넥톤 (Nekton)
YunyByeolgok – Just Go
YunyByeolgok – 밀양아리랑 (Listen to Me)
Yuri – Arirang Flower
ZanHyang – 바다, 그끝에 (Sea, at the End of It)

All album art from Bugs Music. Leenalchi cover image from Naver OnStage YouTube.

Read our past series:

2019 In Review

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review