One Last SMILE For North Korea (Week 52 – 2015)

Yay, finally my computer is working enough to let me finish this xP Anyways, for this last SMILE, I picked a locale that not many people would think about when it comes to finding new music. But, as a big fan of South Korean pop, I was curious what the other side had to offer. I know most people are quick to write off places like North Korea as evil and call it a day, but there is more to it than sweeping generalizations and vague “well, I heard…”‘s. North Korea might not be first on people’s list of places to find new music, but it shouldn’t be ignored either. Enjoy!

First up is N.Korea’s first all-girl band, selected by Kim Jong-un himself, here’s Moranbong Band‘s Let’s Study (lyrics)(Korean). More of an orchestra than a pop group, they made their debut in July of 2012. The existence of the group has been linked to many things, including more openness to Western influences and as a response to the Hallyu wave. Obviously, the group is heavily controlled by the government, as evident by this glaring piece of propaganda, but it is an interesting step forward none-the-less. An intriguing recent story about the group is that their first overseas concert in China was canceled just hours beforehand either because China sent low-level officials to the event instead of those higher up (thus “snubbing” N.Korea) or because N.Korea had declared a period of mourning for Kim Jong-il (during which singing and dancing are banned). I’m guessing it was probably both.

Sticking with orchestra’s, which appears to be the only kind of music N.Koreans produce, here’s Ri Pun Hui and Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble‘s Women are Flowers (sorry I couldn’t find any lyrics!)(Korean). The song itself is actually quite a popular one, as I came across several variations while searching, and Ri Pun Hui’s voice is really pretty. Aside from this being in Korean, it sounds like a lot of classical, orchestra-style music you’d hear anywhere in the world – which I think is something important to point out since many people’s hesitations about exploring new music is, “What if I don’t find anything I like?” One of my reasons for doing these SMILEs is to show people that, no matter where you look, you can almost always find something similar to what you already enjoy. And, even if you don’t, you might find something new to love! You just have to be willing to give things a try ^^

From that same orchestra, here’s Kim Kwang Suk and Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble‘s What is life (sorry I couldn’t find any lyrics!)(Korean). I don’t care where you’re born, a beautiful voice is a beautiful voice, and she definitely has one! Even though I’m pretty sure the lyrics are propaganda of some sort, I don’t think that should overshadow her voice and her talent. Being a fan of music in different languages means you have to deal with a lot of comments like, “But you don’t know what they’re saying…” Liking music shouldn’t be about immediately understanding the words (I’m sure, given enough time, I could find a translation of this song or even translate it myself if I could find the lyrics) or about the politics of where that music comes from, it’s about music and enjoying it for what it is first and foremost. Even with propaganda songs (which America has plenty of I assure you!), you can still enjoy the song as a good piece of music and not get swept up into everything else. Always be aware of what you’re listening to sure, but never write something off just because of it’s association with something else.

And… that’s it xD There are lots of different songs and videos out there, but they’re all pretty much the same thing as the above and largely by the same groups/singers. I knew going in that the selection would be limited, but here are some more options if you really wish to explore further.

Well, there you go, a year of SMILEs! Wow, can’t believe I made it through – even if my computer tried to stop me!! xD Will I do more in the future? I have no idea at the moment, but it’s definitely something I enjoyed and might do some random updates later on, who knows! Thanks for listening and, as always, enjoy the music!

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