North Korea and ’80s pop music

24 02 2012

(23 Feb. 2012) On this week’s Closeup, ABC Radio National “Drive” travels to North Korea, by way of the 1980s Norwegian pop hit ‘Take On Me’ by A-ha.

Leonid Petrov, lecturer in Korean studies at the University of Sydney, is your expert guide. He speaks Korean and has travelled to North Korea several times.

And he’s joined by Norwegian artist and director Morten Traavik, who made a video of North Korean music students playing ‘Take on Me’ on piano accordion, which has now gone viral on YouTube ( North Korean students play “Take On Me” )

Listen to the full audio segment here…

THE PROMISED LAND, Barents Region / North Korea, 2012

Part 1: ñ3
After years of devising artistic projects inside the ‘world’s most secluded country’ (see also projects DISCOCRACY and ROCK STEADY NORTH KOREA!), Morten Traavik is now overseeing this unique collaboration.  For the first time ever, a larger group of North-Korean are visiting Norway and Northern Europe, as participants in THE PROMISED LAND: a project that brazenly aims at the opening of minds over a divide of mutual suspicion, challenging established truths and prejudices about ourselves and each other.

Part 1: ME/WE
Calls on both locals and visitors to the international arts festival Barents Spektakel 2012 to take part in a pioneering record attempt and a test of our ability to act together as one: with the help of North Korean mass games instructors we will try to create Norwayís biggest living picture, hopefully with several hundred participants. Following the signals of the North Korean instructors, every participant turns over pages of a colorful flip-book, becoming one of the hundreds of living pixels forming huge, shifting mosaic pictures of well-known motives from the High North. ME/WE also puts our communal spirit to the test: Are we western individualists able to subordinate ourselves to the collective discipline necessary to act together as one, if only just for some hours? Join the project and find out! The ME/WE performance is accompanied live by the accordeon  virtuosos of Kum Song (Gold Star) Music School Ensemble from the North Korean capital Pyongyang. ( ME/WE – A North Korean mass game in Kirkenes, Norway )

In Western media-influenced society almost everyone can be a star with relatively little effort. Popular shows such as X-factor and Idol bring the dream of stardom within reach for generations of youth, where image and personality often are at least as important as skills and talent to ‘make it big’. North Korean culture,on the other hand, is characterized by an extreme focus on practice and technical skills, with stylists and marketing being a somewhat lower priority. North Korean young musicians keep a high international level, and among the country’s national instruments we find the accordeon. From Kum Song (Gold Star) School of Music in Pyongyang, Traavik has brought a quintet of the school’s most talented accordeon students to perform a concert program of Korean and international hits during the festival, as well as accompanying the ME/WE performance live.

Traavik has collaborated with North Korean software engineers to develop the simple and fun strategic computer game Norway On Norway. Inspired by todayís Korean peninsula, here it is Norway that is divided in two opposing sides: South and North. The player can choose to be South Norway or North Norway with the goal to reunite the whole country under oneís own colour. Just like on the chess board of global politics, the player has to rely on skills and luck in equal measures to achieve success, while handling not only outside interference from bigger foreign powers like EU, USA and Russia, but also conflicts of interest with indigenous minorities like the Saami.


BBC News, 10 Feb. 2012
Alastair Lawson,  ‘North Korean A-ha accordionists ‘destined for stardom'”
Full article, 02.02.12:
Full article

YouTube 01.02.12:
Take On Me by a-ha, North Korean style
Full clip

Norsk Kim-show
Dagbladet, 07.01.12

Publikum blir kunst
Finnmarken, 17.02.11




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