Monday, July 20, 2015

Sure to be this summer's hottest ticket: Liberation Day in Pyongyang


Gwangbokjeol (literally "Restoration of Light Day"), also called as the National Liberation Day of Korea, celebrated annually on August 15, is one of the public holidays in South Korea. It commemorates Victory over Japan Day, which liberated Korea from colonial rule.

Independent Korean governments were created three years later, on August 15, 1948, when the pro-Moscow Kim Il-sung was made first President of North Korea and pro-U.S. Syngman Rhee was made first President of South Korea. Gwangbokjeol was officially designated a public holiday on October 1, 1949 in South Korea and is known as Chogukhaebangŭi nal. (조국해방의 날; literally "Liberation of Fatherland Day") in North Korea.
-- from the Wikipedia article on "Gwangbokjeol"

"North Korea is, the way we see it, the utopian experiment ... and we always felt really good in any kind of utopia."
-- Ivan "Jani" Novak of Laibach ("Slovenia's
best-known music export"), to AFP

by Ken

Last night's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was another solid outing, with as its main offering a strong report on food waste in America. But the item that lodged in my head, and won't give ground, is the above, from the up-front review of the week's news, about the plans for Liberation Day festivities planned North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un.

Properly speaking, then, while both North and South Korea celebrate Liberation Day, it appears, going by Wikipedia, that we shouldn't be talking about Gwangbokjeol, but about Chogukhaebangŭi nal. Unfortunately, while there's a sizable literature on Gwangbokjeol, including multiple links for the ever-popular "Gwangbokjeol Song," the literature on Chogukhaebangŭi nal is, shall we say, sparser.

Could it be that Liberation Day festivities in North Korea traditionally haven't been as, er, charismatic as they have been in the South? Well, all that changes this year, when Kim Jong-un brings his already-happy people their first foreign rock band. There should be dancing in the streets of the people's republic.
Controversial Slovenian band set to perform in N. Korea

Slovenian band Laibach, pictured in Trbovlje on July 4, 2015, will play concerts in North Korea on August 19 and 20, as part of 70th anniversary celebrations of the Korean peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule (AFP Photo/Jure Makovec)

AFP | July 14, 2015 1:30 PM

Slovenian retro-avantgarde rock group Laibach has announced it will become the first foreign rock outfit to perform in North Korea this August as part of their Liberation Day Tour.

Founded in 1980 in former Yugoslavia, Slovenia's best-known music export frequently courts controversy with its deliberately ambiguous use of political and nationalist imagery.

Laibach said it had been invited to North Korea after a year-long discussion between Pyonyang and Norwegian artist Morten Traavik who set up the tour.

Traavik has a history of organising cultural projects in North Korea and visited the isolated state almost 20 times over the last three years.

"I think Laibach is the perfect first pop rock band to perform in North Korea... It is about art, and art has the privilege of being ambiguous and saying many things at the same time," said Traavik who filmed a video clip for the band's latest album, "Whistleblowers".

"There are certain levels of Laibach's works that will not be understood by the North Korean audience, because they dont have the tools to understand it. But many other aspects, not least the music itself, will be perfectly understood."

The concerts are due to take place on August 19 and 20, as part of 70th anniversary celebrations of the Korean peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule, the band said in a statement.

Beijing-based Koryo Tours, one of a handful of groups that regularly takes foreign tourists to North Korea, is offering a four-night tour taking in both scheduled concert dates, although it warned the performances were still "subject to final approval" by the North Korean authorities.

"It is important to note that this part of the tour is not 100 percent guaranteed," it said on its website.

The North Korean popular music scene, such as it is, is largely limited to state-approved bands making state-approved sounds, although foreign music, especially from South Korea, is becoming more accessible with the spread of portable media players, that can play music smuggled into the country on CDs or USB sticks.

"North Korea is, the way we see it, the utopian experiment... and we always felt really good in any kind of utopia," Laibach frontman Ivan "Jani" Novak told AFP.

Laibach takes its name from the German name for the Slovenian capital Ljubljana first used under the Austro-Hungarian empire and during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

While some accuse the rockers of being fascist, others argue that their work is a critique of totalitarian ideology.

Laibach was the musical wing and founding member of the avantgarde political art collective "Neue Slowenische Kunst" or NSK (New Slovenian Art) in 1984.

The collective's first ever exhibition is currently on display in Ljubljana.
You'll want to check out that four-day tour of North Korea offered by Koryo Tours, albeit with that caveat that "the performances are still 'subject to final approval ' by the North Korean authorities."

Now the snatches we hear of Laibach may not suggest the most festive of celebrants for Liberation Day, but as John Oliver notes in his report, selections from The Sound of Music à la Laibach are promised. (John says he really wants to see the guy pictured in the AFP story above singing about "whiskers on kittens.")

You'll also note the suggestion in the AFP report, also made by John Oliver, that Laibach has been accused of being fascist, to which the group's response, he notes, is that "Laibach is fascist the way Hitler was a painter," which, John says, "I assume means they are facist but they're very, very bad at it."


So here's the current AccuWeather forecast for Pyongyang for the first few weeks in August (click to enlarge):


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