Saturday, December 12, 2015

North Korea Sends Its Leader’s Chosen Pop Band to Beijing

12/13/2015 -- Gig cancelled!  See.; via MF on facebook

Image of Moranbong Band in Beijing from article

BEIJING — Pop groups do not usually entertain audiences with songs like
“Our Dear Leader!” and “Do Prosper, Era of the Workers’ Party.”

Yet those may be among the ditties that North Korea’s Moranbong Band
— two dozen or so slender young women in form­fitting outfits and high heels
— perform in Beijing on Saturday night, in their first overseas appearance.

Moranbong Band is the latest (and maybe the only) soft­-power export
from North Korea. It is the favorite group of Kim Jong­-un, the nation’s young
authoritarian leader, and some reports say he handpicked each member. Mr.
Kim’s wife, Ri Sol­ju, who once sang in a band herself, is believed to be a

Moranbong has been dispatched to Beijing at a time when China and
North Korea are trying to improve relations amid differences about the North’s
nuclear ambitions and other economic and political matters.

On Wednesday, the women boarded a train in Pyongyang, the North
Korean capital. They arrived the next day in Beijing, just at the end of the
capital’s red alert over soaring air pollution.

Paparazzi photographs posted online showed band members being
whisked through the streets on a bus, dressed in old­-school socialist fashion:
furry hats with a red star and long olive military-­style winter coats.

But the women are expected to don much sexier outfits — out of the
ordinary for North Korean women, who tend to dress modestly — when they
appear over three nights at the National Center for the Performing Arts, the
egg­shaped concert hall west of Tiananmen Square. A North Korean state
choral group is also on the program.

All three concerts are invitation­-only events. Party officials are expected to
attend, and some state work groups and ministry employees have been offered
free tickets.

“The visit by the band shows there is good will on the part of North
Korea,” said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at
Renmin University who studies North Korea. “However, we must not overly
interpret the political significance of the performance.”

The band is named after a hill in Pyongyang steeped in revolutionary
history. In the 1940s, Kim Il­sung, the grandfather of the current leader, is
said to have given a speech there after returning from exile in the Soviet

The women have performed at military barracks and for officials of the
ruling Workers’ Party of Korea in concert halls in Pyongyang. In addition to
pop versions of patriotic songs, the band has also mastered instrumental
covers of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and the theme from “Rocky.”

The group made its debut in 2012 and was seen as the North Korean
answer to the famous K­-pop girl bands of South Korea. The state­-run Korean
Central News Agency gave an appraisal of the homegrown sensation: “Just 10­
odd musicians presented such sublime, rich and thrilling melodies as those of
a grand orchestra with refined rendition while young singers sang songs in an
emotional and cheerful manner.”

In Moranbong’s official debut concert, held that July and attended by Mr.
Kim and his wife, people dressed as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Winnie
the Pooh appeared onstage as the musicians played instrumental covers of
Disney songs. (Disney was not amused.)

North Korea watchers quickly seized on the evening as a sign that Mr.
Kim, then newly in power, might open up to Western culture and pursue
economic, if not political, change. That has not turned out to be the case.

In 2013, rumors circulated in South Korea that one band member, Hyon
Song­wol, had been executed, along with about a dozen other North Korean
performers. But she resurfaced in a television broadcast in 2014 in which she
saluted Mr. Kim for his “heavenly trust and warm care in promoting the arts.”

Asked this week at a regularly scheduled news conference in Beijing about
the band, Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said, “The
good­will visit and performance of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea art
groups in China are not within the remit of the Foreign Ministry.”

But she added, “We always believe that state-­to­-state exchanges and
cooperation in various forms will help increase mutual understanding and
friendship between the peoples.”

Choe Sang­-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea,
and Patrick Boehler from Hong Kong

No comments: