Tag Archives: Asian music

The Whole Country Dances – The North Korean Music Scene

KJuvMusic(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 Pochonboentirety. 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

Triple Rainbows
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

Music for eating peaches to (and papayas and mangosteens as well)

mangosteenUnfortunately, I know next to nothing about Vietnam and even less about Vietnamese music, but I have been wanting to share my appreciation of Huong Thanh ever since I heard her cd Mangustao. In it she blends Vietnamese music with jazz in a way which
joins hands surprisingly. There is a lilt in her singing which reminds me of some of the creatures which you see in an aquarium which suddenly flick their tails to move along unexpectedly or else makes me think that the line of music is walking along a plank or springboard which suddenly bounces back up when you reach the end of it. Here is a sample of her singing (From “Fragile Beauty”, another beautiful record.)

And here is her web page (not easy to navigate, you have to click on that little rectangle in the middle to open up the menu) which plays another piece of music. As I listened to this second piece of music I went to get myself a peach and sat down to peel and eat it. After a while I realised that I was cutting and eating with special attention and enjoyment. I had always known there was music for marching and there is music I put on which makes cleaning easier and there is music which helps to wind down and clear your mind and music to give you drive, but I had never realised there was music for eating fruit. It put me in mind of the Vietnamese film the scent of the Green Papaya where cutting fruit and vegetables always seems to be an ecstatic experience. I was so caught up by the peach and the sound that I didn’t realise that the music was a
loop which went round and round in circles. Luckily it was a peach and not a water melon and it only took me ten minutes to finish it and come out of my dream.

Too Lazy To Paint Eyebrows ?

pipaCertainly not in this case. I have never heard the Pipa played quite like this clip of  Wu Man ( 吴蛮) playing.

The Guardian has an article on her here.  And you can hear her play the pipa in music that isn’t at all Chinese in this programme from  New Sounds, which is  always  a good place to find music you have never heard before. (Or at least which I haven’t heard of before).

If you now want to become an expert on the pipa, you can have a look at this book.6a00e5502c099d883400e5506daeb98834-800wi