‘Only in Rio’: South Korea’s ambassador to Brazil is an unlikely samba star

Last Updated: June 20, 2024By

Unexpected Ambassador: From Diplomacy to Samba Stardom

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The latest music sensation from Brazil had a grin plastered on his face as he strolled down Copacabana beach, pondering his unconventional path to fame.

“Samba just fills me with joy, you know? It’s like pure happiness,” the 59-year-old singer said in Portuguese, pausing under the shade of palm trees for a quick photo op.

But hold up, this entertainer isn’t your run-of-the-mill Rio samba star. Nope, he’s a South Korean diplomat straight outta a totally different beachy city on the other side of the planet. Meet Lim Ki-mo, the ambassador from Korea’s Busan, who’s been making waves in Brazil since he landed there three years ago, belting out Brazilian bangers like there’s no tomorrow.

This week, Lim hit a new high note in his singing career by gracing the stage at Renascença Clube, one of Rio’s swankiest samba joints, to jam with a top-notch samba crew. The crowd went wild as Seoul’s very own ambassador serenaded them with tunes by legendary artists like Adoniran Barbosa and the chart-topping Grupo Revelação.

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“It was absolute madness,” said Gabriel Cavalcante, the singer who invited Lim to join his group, Samba do Trabalhador.

Videos of the diplomat’s fiery performance blew up online, with everyone giving him a big thumbs-up. “His performances… They’re just so full of emotion and energy,” raved the folks at Rio’s O Globo newspaper.

Cavalcante spilled the tea that their weekly jam session had seen some serious samba heavyweights over the years – names like Almir Guineto, Beth Carvalho, and Nelson Sargento. But never, ever had they seen an ambassador take the stage.

“He was over the moon,” Cavalcante chuckled. “Some might say, ‘Man, this ambassador is off his rocker.’ But hey, he’s the real deal,” he added, giving props to Lim’s soft power moves.

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Now, Lim isn’t the first diplomat to try his hand at music diplomacy in South America. Remember James Cason, the US ambassador to Paraguay? Dude dropped an album in the Indigenous language Guarani, though opinions were kinda split on that one.

And hey, did you know that Brazil once had Vinicius de Moraes, the bossa nova maestro, on their foreign service team? Crazy, right? But they kicked him out during the military days, only to give him an ambassador title posthumously in 2010. And then there’s Antonio Patriota, Brazil’s ambassador in London, who drops records under the name Tonio de Aguiar. His latest jam features a samba track called “Next Year’s Carnival” – classic!

But let’s get back to Lim’s story. His journey from diplomatic halls to samba stages kicked off over 11,000 miles away in Busan, South Korea, where he was born in ’65. He first heard Brazilian tunes as a kid, grooving to “The Girl from Ipanema” on the radio. But it wasn’t until half a century later, after globetrotting to places like China, Switzerland, and Jamaica, that he finally landed in Brazil.

While posted in Kingston, Lim gave folks a taste of his vocal chops by dressing up as Bob Marley and belting out “No Woman, No Cry.” “Made headlines, you know,” the ambassador chuckled. But it was in Brazil where he truly found his groove. Arriving in 2021, he fell in love with Brazilian country music, which reminded him of Korea’s trot genre.

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But let’s face it, Brazil was going through a rough patch back then. Bolsonaro was in charge, COVID was running rampant – it was a mess. “Nobody was in the mood for speeches,” Lim recalled.

So he hatched a plan: to sing Brazilian pop tunes at events, spreading good vibes and changing perceptions about Korea along the way. “People laughed, smiled, and hey, they asked for more,” he said.

After hitting the headlines with his country tunes, Lim dove headfirst into samba, captivated by its deep, spiritual lyrics. Last year, he shared the stage with Rio’s mayor at carnival and even jammed with samba legend Luiz Carlos.

Then came the moment when Cavalcante invited him to Renascença Clube. “You wanna sing?” the sambista asked. “Really?” Lim replied, disbelief written all over his face.

And so, on a Monday night, the Korean diplomat found himself at the club, ready to perform with Samba do Trabalhador. Five Brazilian beers helped calm his nerves.

“I just want folks to see Korea as a fun, happy place,” Lim said, a mission he seemed to accomplish judging by the overwhelmingly positive response.

“Geez,” said Cavalcante, shaking his head in disbelief. “An ambassador – a South Korean one at that – showing up at a Monday samba session, downing five beers, and grabbing the mic… Only in Rio, man. There’s nowhere else on Earth like it.”

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