A well-known rock band hailing from former Yugoslavia will become the first ever group of its kind to perform in North Korea, holding Pyongyang concerts this August to coincide with a national anniversary commemorating the end of Japanese colonial rule.
Laibach, founded in the year that saw the death of former Yugoslavian dictator Marshal Tito, will perform two dates in North Korea during Liberation Day celebrations as part of a “cultural-exchange” initiative held in cooperation with Arts Council Norway and Norwegian film director Morten Traavik.
“The objective is – as always – cultural exchange and mutual understanding, not as empty phrases but in its practical and truest sense,” Laibach spokesperson Morten Traavik told NK News, noting performances would incorporate local Korean artists and musicians performing on the same stage with the visiting band.
The band’s noteworthy background, which includes being banned multiple times by former Yugoslavian authorities and an aesthetic described by contemporary Slovenian travel writers as “something of a parody of the (then-) ruling communist party,” might indicate evolving perceptions in North Korea of foreign artistic groups.
“We hope the fact that a band firmly established in the Western avant-garde being invited to the DPRK tells something perhaps a bit unexpected about the country’s curiosity and openness towards the outside world,” Traavik said.
Christopher Green, a North Korea researcher at Leiden University, said Leibach’s initiative could do good, “as long as the (band) goes to North Korea ready to sniff out the regime’s attempts to instrumentalize the concert(s) for its own ends.
“Even if that happens it doesn’t necessarily invalidate the concert, but it is important to be conscious of the interests and goals of the government,” Green continued.
Engagement projects involving North Korean state acquiescence – such as the WomenCrossDMZ peace march – have recently come under heavy fire from human rights activists, typically over claims that organizers ignore Pyongyang’s woeful human rights record to facilitate on-the-ground access.
But Traavik said Laibach’s tour could yet raise the issue, even if indirectly.
“Laibach believes that art’s main mission and a key feature that distinguishes it from other forms of communication is its ability and duty to ask questions and show possibilities instead of preaching solutions.
“We’ll leave that to the priests, politicians, salesmen, entertainers, rights activists and propagandists, some of whom we’re surely going to hear from now this news is out in the open,” he said.
Laibach‘s two performances will take place in the main hall of the Kim Won Gyun Music Conservatory in Pyongyang, Traavik said, adding that they will also be filmed as part of a documentary of the tour.
If previous concerts in North Korea prove a precedence, the Laibach events will likely be attended by young students, representatives from DPRK cultural organizations, and people from the expat and diplomatic community, Traavik said.
Arts Council Norway is supporting the project sufficient to cover production, travel and accommodation costs, though Traavik would not indicate the specific amount Norway’s government operator “for the implementation of cultural policy” was providing towards the project.
Image design: Valnoir
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