(This article was first posted in February 2008. I think it is time for people to be reminded of North Korean music. Nordkorea.info.de doesn’t seem to provide songs any longer, which is a great pity, but there is a good selection here. In particular, I would recommend Heroic Workers’ Factory, which has an English translation. It is a song you can try out at work yourselves. See if increases your output.)
I was leafing through the Rough Guide to World Music one day, looking up countries I had visited in order to find out which melodies I had missed and remembered (but how could one forget) that one of the countries I have been to is North Korea. The book has a box on the musical scene in North Korea with a list of titles including the following:
Song of Bean Paste
My Country Full of Happiness
We Shall Hold Bayonets More Firmly
Our Life Is Precisely A Song
Song of Snipers
The Joy Of Bumper Harvest Overflows Amidst The Song of Mechanisation
Farming In This Year Is Great Bumper Crop
My Country Is Nice To Live In
Music Of Mass Rhythmic Gymnastics
I Like Both Morning And Evening
The Shoes My Brother Gave Me Fit Me Tight
The World Envies Us
These titles brought back many of the feelings one had while one was in North Korea. I was going to leave it at that, but I wanted to find a clearer picture for the cover of Korean Juvenile Music (reproduced above) and in this search I stumbled across an excellent site which proclaimed
Herzlich willkommen auf Nordkorea-Info.de
and which has a substantial collection of North Korean CD’s for sale. You can even listen to some of the tracks in their entirety. My favourite is My Country is the Best. We’ve Taken Grenades in Our Hands (also in the Korean Juvenile Music series) is excellent too, Glory to General Kim Jong Il is obviously excellent as well even though the Bavarian influence is a little strong for my tastes. But the real discovery was the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble who play with unequalled confidence and flair. If I had a record company I would not hesitate to sign them up. I think there is definitely a niche market which would go overboard for them. In fact, I have a feeling they would be particularly good at the Superbowl – the style is very similar. I watched a number of their videos, I think I counted eight keyboard players but there may be more. Here is an example of their multi-layered approach:
Someone has implied that the Mansudae Art Troupe are even better, but I can’t say I have been convinced, even though that is only on the strength of one track.
As I said, Herzlich willkommen auf Nordkorea-Info.de allows you to listen to a number of tracks in their entirety. It is a pity therefore that some of the more intriguing titles have no audio clip associated with them. I would really have liked to have heard O Persimmon Trees at a Coastal Guard Outpost. In any case, I have decided to put down here some of what I feel are the most memorable titles. I have found that arranging them in pairs conjures up a pretty accurate picture of the atmosphere one perceives in North Korea.
We Shall Live Forever to Defend Our Seas
Taehongdan Potato Good for Longevity
Oh, What Is a Party Member?
He Doesn’t Know Maybe
Fresh and Green Edible Aster on Mt. Ryongak
It Will Radiate with the General Sunshine
I Am a Blossom of the Fatherly General
I Also Raise Chickens.
We Are Honourable Infantrymen
Coming to Remove Weeds from the Sky
We’ve Taken Grenades in Our Hands
What Has Happened to the Thaebaeksan Hospital?
Let’s Sing of Paternal Affection
My Youngest Daughter, Pok Sun, Became a AA-machine gunner
Sea of Potato Blossoms in Taehongdan
Pleasant Snack Time
Nightingales Sing in Our Factory Compound
Song of Blood Transfusion
My Mind Remains Unchanged
I Like Rifle
and to end a couple of threesomes
I Always See Them
Deep in Thought, the Nurse Ponders
Our Satellite Sings
Song of Automation Full of Happiness
The Whole Country Dances
Yes, now I remember
Thank you for the intro to North Korean music! I hope many will find it useful. Like you say, the music is certainly unique and can be pleasant to listen to.
I actually lived in North Korea for a while as a child and remember well Pochonbo songs which were on the tv and radio a lot, as well as marsches etc that were played on loudspeakers all over Pyongyang.
I had just found a library of all their songs and downloaded it – was looking for the iTunes images of the CDs 🙂
North Korea is a VERY misunderstood country. It is not near as hostile as media is claiming right now.
It might not be great on human rights, but many people live normal decent lives and are supporters of North Koreas unique philosophy and it’s independence.
Please take time to form your own opinion and do not take everything you hear about North Korea at face value. There is plenty of disinformation around.