SXSW 2019 — Jambinai, Palm Door on Sabine

I’m not going to mince words here. Seeing Jambinai live is a spiritual experience.

I tried, I really did, to make this an article highlighting the band’s exceptional musicianship. Of their unique ability to give both the traditional and the modern scope and depth. I tried, for about a minute, to make this an article like any other, about how impressed and elated I was to see them live. Ultimately I couldn’t bring myself to think of anything that wasn’t wrought with emotion. Because that’s what Jambinai does to anyone who sees them perform live.

As a unit, the trio–Lee Il-woo on electric guitar, vocals, and a small hand flute called a piri; Kim Bo-mi on a single-stringed instrument called a haegeum; and Sim Eun-yong on a zither-like instrument called a geomungo–have a synergy that’s indescribable. They feed off each other, each musician infusing the other with energy. That energy transforms into something truly holy once the show starts.


My experience seeing the band has always been in bits and pieces. A few songs here, a mini-showcase there. But never have I seen them control the stage as the only act, as the highlight, the headline, the solo star in a universe filled with them. When Jambinai has full control of the stage, it’s a sight to behold.

I could go into detail about the poise of Bo-mi, her elegance enviable. I could talk about Il-woo’s wildness, the way he flings his guitar this way and that as the music gets good to him. I could wax poetic about the angelic softness of Eun-yong, the delicate way she holds and caresses her instrument to coax some of the most thunderous sounds from its six silken strings.

But really that’s not what this is about. This is about the natural, almost feral approach to their stage. This is about a band who created one of the most earth-rich albums to come out of the last ten years with A Hermitage. They transfer that gut and growl to a performance heavy with meaning, dripping with raw emotion. Each member of the audience is transfixed in their own way. Whether silenced into an understandable awe or thrashing to the rough and tumble of the mix of traditional Korean music and heavy metal, every single person is both physically and emotionally moved.


As for me…? I am overwhelmed. Having to concentrate on grabbing images from a show that would forever stain my psyche with its grandeur…. It almost seems pointless. The whole practice of professionalism arbitrary in the grander scheme of things. There are moments when I forget what I’m here for. Not just what I’m doing at the show, why there’s a camera in my hands. No… what am I here for? There’s so much magic in this world, so much indescribable beauty. A fair amount of it is but a few inches in front of me. In these moments, nestled between a speaker and the low dip of the Palm Door’s stage, I am absolutely breathless.

Jambinai’s power isn’t in their precise musicianship (which is exceptional) or their musical vision (which is incredibly wide). It’s in the way they allow the music to speak, to really talk to the audience. There’s a story, a mystery, a love affair, a tragedy, a protest and riot in each note they play.

You are set adrift with the power in their songs. Floating in space. Time has no meaning here. In fact, I couldn’t very well tell you how long I stood there. They put a glamour on the world around me, the fantasy deep, detailed, and ingrained in my chest. It’s not until the lights come back on that the fantasy shimmers away. How can I go back to the world the way it is? How can I move, think, speak?

I don’t.

I hold on to that last note, clutching it like a lifeline. Jambinai breathed new life into me with this performance at the Palm Door. I was born again that night, and every moment I’ve lived between then and this article sizzles like earth magic.

Seeing Jambinai live is truly, truly a spiritual experience.

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