Norwegians seek A-ha! moment in North Korean music
OSLO, Norway (AP) — It's not the face of North Korea the world is used to: five young musicians adding a playful twist to one of the most popular Western pop songs of the 1980s.
On Saturday, an accordion quintet that gained unexpected YouTube fame with their cover of A-ha's megahit "Take on Me" performed the song live at an arts festival in Kirkenes, on Norway's Arctic border with Russia.
"For many it is a revelation that North Koreans open up and play Western pop music with such great joy," said Norwegian artist Morten Traavik, who recorded the video during a visit to the Kum Song school of music in Pyongyang in December. It has since been viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube.
The ensemble accepted his invitation to come to Norway, and their chords formed the musical backdrop Saturday as 250 Norwegian border guards holding colored flipboards tried to create a small-scale version of the giant human mosaics performed at North Korean mass games.
It was choreographed by two North Korean directors, but instead of the patriotic motifs typical to those events, the display in Kirkenes featured local images, such as polar bears and reindeer herders, Traavik said.
It's part of an art project that he's labeled "The Promised Land."
"My idea is to challenge our perceptions of North Koreans, which is extremely negative and stigmatized," he said. "I have a lot of good friends in North Korea. Like other people, they are proud of their country and nature. They are among the friendliest people I have gotten to know."
However, he said North Koreans are marked by a "siege" mentality, from being cut off from the rest of the world by their own authoritarian regime.
"It is important that they experience a very positive response during their visit here," he said. "That they feel welcomed and taken care of."