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Rapping Grandmas from South Korea Share Farming Tales

A collective of elderly hip-hop artists from South Korea has garnered significant attention both locally and beyond. Known as Suni and the Seven princesses, the group focuses on rapping about agricultural life and injecting vitality into a tranquil rural region facing the challenge of a declining population.

The group, which originated at a community center in Chilgok County last August, has gained prominence in its vicinity. Situated southeast of the capital city, Seoul, the area has embraced the group’s presence.

Leading the ensemble is 81-year-old Park Jeom-sun, also known as Suni, who expressed her rejuvenation and enthusiasm following a recent performance at a school, stating, “It feels like I’m getting younger…Even if I’m old, I’m thrilled.”

Initially attracting a modest following of 150 individuals, the group’s popularity has since surged, leading to invitations to perform in neighboring towns and feature on television programs. Their online presence has also flourished, with their videos amassing over 77,000 views on YouTube.

The success of Suni and the Seven princesses is particularly noteworthy as South Korea is on the brink of transitioning into a “super-ageing” society, with one-fifth of the population aged over 65. This demographic shift has contributed to the depopulation of rural areas like Chilgok, as younger generations migrate to urban centers, resulting in a decline in childbirth rates.

Park emphasized the stark transformation in the local landscape, lamenting the dwindling population, “In the past, it felt like I’m living in a really busy town, but now it’s not good. There are no people here anymore.”

Donning quirky hats, loose-fitting pants, and metallic accessories during performances, Park and her group members reminisce about their youth. Their lyrics vividly portray rural life, with verses like: “Picking chili from a chili farm…Picking watermelon from a watermelon farm. So happy to be back home!” Watermelon and chili cultivation are prevalent in the region.

Having shared a long-standing camaraderie since their youth, the group members, who lacked formal education in the aftermath of the Korean War, embarked on an adult literacy program in 2016 to master the Korean alphabet, Hangul.

The group’s foray into rap was inspired by a viral performance they stumbled upon online. Leveraging their Hangul proficiency, they ventured into senior rap, focusing on rural narratives. Their inaugural performance took place at a school play hosted at the same community center where they initially convened for Hangul lessons.

The remarkable impact of Suni and the Seven princesses has spurred the emergence of four additional elderly rap groups in Chilgok. Some groups formed with the intention of sharpening mental acuity and combating feelings of isolation.

Reflecting on her grandmother’s newfound fame, Park’s proud 27-year-old granddaughter, Kang Hye-eun, remarked on the unexpected social media stardom, “I thought only celebrities become popular on social media, but my grandmother is there now.”

This is Gregory Stachel reporting.

Minwoo Park filed this report for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.