December 07, 2023

Pop-aganda: North Korean accordionists cover Norway’s greatest hits

An interview with Morten Traavik on his new vinyl album expanding musical collaboration with the DPRK

In 2012, five young North Korean accordionists went viral on YouTube, a website banned in their home country, with a short arrangement of the hit 1980s song “Take On Me,” even receiving a shoutout on the U.S. television show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

The sprightly cover of the a-ha hit was the brainchild of Morten Traavik, a Norwegian artist and director who has made a name for himself spearheading such unlikely cultural collaborations with the DPRK. Perhaps most famously (and controversially), he arranged for provocative Slovenian music group Laibach to perform in Pyongyang in 2015, an event that attracted global media attention and resulted in a documentary on the concert.