Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Radio Pyongyang: Commie Funk and Agit Pop from the Hermit Kingdom

Given that North Korea is so much in the news these days I dug out a copy of the CD 'Radio Pyongyang: Commie Funk and Agit Pop from the Hermit Kingdom', which dates back to when I was an Andy Kershaw wannabe and writing a world music column.
The recordings were made by Christiaan Virant, who was living in China at the time, from broadcasts transmitted from neighbouring North Korea. The occasional hiss of white noise and distortion also gives the listener the impression of listening in on a shortwave radio.
The songs themselves are quite bland, a mixture of Asian-orchestrated pop that somehow combines a military four-four rhythm with sugary smaltz. There is nothing here to suggest that any of this music has its roots in native Korean culture. The music is interspersed with spoken announcements and news reports extoling the virtues of the secretaive communist state and its leader, Kim Jong Il.
There are some truly appalling pieces of music on this album - particularly a track of singing school children, who are probably praising grain production targets or something, in a sugary ditty that even their mothers couldn’t like. However, the album has its moments... well if you like Stalinist orchestration set to a funky beat, it has its moments.
It is an oddity that should only be played to close friends if they are very drunk and have a refined sense of the absurd and a passing interest in geo-politics.

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