By Kim Soo-yeon
SEOUL, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) — Slovenian rock band Laibach said Sunday its upcoming concerts in North Korea will be suitable for marking South and North Korea’s key anniversary as its music speaks to a similar history in its homeland of Yugoslavia.
Laibach is scheduled to hold two rare concerts in Pyongyang on Aug. 19-20 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule and the division of the two Koreas.
In a county where the influx of Western cultural products is under tight scrutiny, it is quite unusual that the North has decided to allow a foreign band known for its unique visual and musical style to perform in its capital.
But Laibach said that its upcoming gigs in the North match the meaning of the anniversary well as the group relates to the pain caused by the history of division due to a similar experience.
“Our homeland Yugoslavia fell apart in the most tragic and violent way, so we know well the meaning of brother fighting brother,” Morten Traavik, an organizer for the Pyongyang concerts, said in an email interview with Yonhap News Agency.
“Our concert appearance in North Korea can therefore well match the meaning of the anniversary because we are well aware of this meaning and because it is deeply rooted in our music.”
The poster for Slovenian rock band Laibach’s upcoming concerts in North Korea on Aug. 19-20, 2015, to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule and the division of the two Koreas.
(Photo courtesy of Laibach)
Created in 1980, Laibach has caused controversy with its musical and visual style that invokes totalitarianism. Its members wear military uniforms and their visual image was once suggestive of Nazi-era propaganda. Laibach is the German name of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital.
Laibach voiced hope that the upcoming Pyongyang concerts will be “interesting and inspiring.”
It said the setlist for the Pyongyang concerts will be mainly filled with a selection of its well-known songs, but it also plans to sing its new versions of songs from “The Sound of Music,” which North Koreans know.
“Furthermore, we have chosen to make our own interpretations of three Korean songs,” band member Ivan Novak said.
He cited the North’s two revolutionary songs — “Honorable Alive or Dead When Following the Path of the Revolution” and “We will go to Mount Paektu” — and the iconic Korean folk song “Arirang.”
“We don’t really know they will love (our music), but they will react on it for sure, and that’s more important,” Novak said.
The band said the concerts have been made possible thanks to Traavik’s long experience of working with North Korean artists, who he says have a high level of practical expertise and skills.
“However, the knowledge of other ways of thinking about art and creativity is limited, and this is where I think my collaboration projects are a contribution to bringing in some new ideas and impulses,” Traavik added.
Novak said the North’s invitation might have been extended “out of curiosity and necessity,” given that North Korea’s former leader Kim Jong-il stressed the importance of combining Korean tradition with Western instruments and themes in his book titled “On the Art of Opera.”
The group downplayed concerns that the North Korean regime could politicize their concerts for propaganda.
“If anything, we would be happy if the North Korean authorities want to use our concert for propaganda because it means that more people will get to see and hear it,” Novak said.
He added the band’s music and visual style is far “too many-faceted and ambiguous” to be used as propaganda by any political system.
“If they do so, it will be at their own risk.”
Touching on situations in the Korean Peninsula, Traavik said he believes that one of the main hindrances to the two Koreas’ unification is the “interventions of foreign powers.”
“What has made the Korean division seemingly permanent is that at the moment there seems to be no real interest of reunification, not even in the North or South Korea itself,” he said. “But again, as artists our mission is to raise questions, not to provide answers.”
The band said it will release its own version on Monday of the North’s song “We will go to Mount Paektu,” which is the peninsula’s highest peak.
“We’d certainly love to come again and perform the same show in both Koreas and maybe also at the DMZ,” Novak said, referring to the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that bisects the two Koreas.