Munhui Kim: Being a Late Bloomer Has Its Rewards
Bassist Munhui Kim performs at one of Berklee's campus in Valencia series of concerts. Picture by Tato Baeza.
Compared to most musicians, who begin playing an instrument when they are young, South Korean Munhui Kim had a very late start. Initially encouraged by her mathematical abilities, she earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering (control systems) at Wonkwang University in 1999. “The best thing about my late start was that I was able to be humble and always ready to learn,” she says.
She was 26 when she found her calling while watching a television show featuring pianist Min Kim. “I first started playing music as a hobby, for fun, but after being inspired by Kim I decided to apply to the university he taught at because I wanted to meet the pianist who motivated me,” she says. That institution was Dongduk Women’s University, where she specialized in bass guitar, graduating with a Master of Applied Music in 2006.
Because Munhui had a natural affinity for bass sounds, she viewed the bass guitar as her “destiny.” “I really enjoy listening to the low frequencies in music, so I was naturally drawn to it,” she says. She wasn’t disappointed when she met Min, discovering a mentor and a “better musician than I expected [him] to be.” He also was the first teacher to help her discover her potential.
Today, she studies in the Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) program at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain with a scholarship from the CJ Cultural Foundation for outstanding Korean musicians, and refers to program director Casey Driessen as her “newfound inspiration.”
While living in South Korea, Munhui founded and played in several bands, including Asoto Union, Funkafric Booster, Second Session, and Gurueng Train. “Asoto Union is the group that made me the bassist that I am today. I am proud of the music we created,” she says. “We were listed on Korea’s top 100 albums and received a special prize at the Korean Music Awards in 2004.” The band released the album Sound Renovates a Structure in 2003.
After Asoto Union dissolved, she cofounded Funkafric Booster in 2005. Munhui describes their style as “a combination of funk, Africa, and booster, our favorite words. Like Asoto Union, it’s a funk band—but more rhythm-focused.” In 2010, Second Session was born, combining funk bass grooves with R&B guitar lines. Despite her distance from South Korea, she remains a member, as is the case with her fourth and final band, Gurueng Train, a reggae band with a pop sound. Munhui says she feels comfortable playing jazz, reggae, and funk, with the latter being the one she enjoys the most.
She recalls a valuable lesson learned while touring in 2016 with Second Session at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. “The very next day, we were supposed to perform at a small venue in Korea, and instead of rescheduling or canceling that gig, we took a red-eye flight to make it back to the country,” she says. “This left a huge impression on me because keeping a promise and being loyal was a priority. I just remember having a blast with my band members amidst all the traveling and lack of sleep. This is one of the reasons why I would love to keep working with Second Session for a long time.”
Breaking out of the Shell
Now in Valencia, her band spirit carries on with Moon and Bouncers, an idea born prior her arrival to Berklee which aims to create mixtapes with DJs which connecting each instrument and generating a flow from one piece of music to the next. “This is something I’ve been working on throughout my music career and I am now developing as part of my Culminating Experience,” she says. “The emphasis is on the creative process and interaction between different instruments; I bring bass lines and drum grooves and my colleagues [bring] their ideas. We then mash them together, creating very interesting soundscapes and very fun live shows.”
Moon and Bouncers helped push her to attend Berklee. “I shared my project with one of my professors in Korea who is also a Berklee alumnus, and he recommended me to apply. The rest is history,” she says. She also was motivated to pursue a master’s degree in Spain because “Berklee College is well known in Korea, so the degree will help me attain jobs I couldn’t get before,” she says. “I am also learning not only about music but also about time management, and how to use my energy efficiently.”
Munhui says that since enrolling at the Valencia campus she has been playing frequently and becoming more creative. “I never imagined that I could make such strong relationships here because my English was very bad at the beginning. As I am not a very social person, I tried to stick to my studies, but my friends waited for me to break out of my shell and now I have grown very close to them,” she says.
Munhui says that being a female bass performer is becoming more common. “Opportunities are opening up for women to showcase their abilities with this instrument,” she says. “In my case, the bass reminds me of my father and his encouragement to pursue music, so there’s a sense of family that comes with playing the bass.”
Looking ahead, Munhui says she plans to continue to compose and play music, and won’t close the door on becoming a teacher.