Music of North Korea

After the division of Korea in 1951, Korea was split, into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or North and the Republic of Korea or South Korea. Revolutionary song-writing traditions were channeled into support for the state, eventually becoming a style of patriotic song called taejung kayo in the 1980s[1]combining classical and Korean traditional musical forms similar to Soviet patriotic music.

In North Korea, culture, including music, is tightly controlled by the government. Listening to South Korean music "can be considered a crime".[2] Foreign music is lumped into one genre which the North Korean government calls "jazz".

Many North Korean pop songs are usually performed by a young female singer with an electric ensemble, percussionist and accompanying singers and dancers. Some North Korean pop songs such as Fiparam (Whistle) have become popular in South Korea.[3] They are primarily influenced by Russian and Korean pop music and songs have titles like "Our Life Is Precisely a Song", "We Shall Hold Bayonets More Firmly", "The Joy of Bumper Harvest Overflows Amidst the Song of Mechanisation"[4] and "The Dear General Uses Distance-Shrinking Magic [Chukjibeop]."[5]

BBC radio DJ Andy Kershaw noted, on a visit to North Korea, that the only recordings available were by the pop singers Jon Hye-yong, Kim Kwang-suk, Jo Kum-hwa and Ri Pun-hui, and the groups Wangjaesan Light Music Band, the Mansudae Art Troupe and the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, who play in a style Kershaw refers to as "light instrumental with popular vocal".[4] There is also the State Symphony Orchestra, the Sea of Blood Opera Company, two choruses, an orchestra and an ensemble dedicated to Isang Yun's compositions, all in Pyongyang. The Pyongyang Film Studios also produces many instrumental songs for its films.


Active Musical groups and ensembles


  • Song and Dance Ensemble of the Korean People's Army
  • Korean People's Army State Merited Chorus and Ensemble
  • Song and Dance Ensemble of the Korean People's Navy
  • Song and Dance Ensemble of the Korean People's Air Force
  • Song and Dance Ensemble of the Department of Public Security of the DPRK
  • Central Military Band of the Department of the People's Armed Forces of the DPRK



North Korean music, like any general Korean music, includes kinds of both folk and classical, courtly music, including genres like sanjo, pansori and nongak. Pansori is long vocal and percussive music played by one singer and one drummer. The lyrics tell one of five different stories, but is individualized by each performer, often with updated jokes and audience participation. Nongak is a rural form of percussion music, typically played by twenty to thirty performers. Sanjo is entirely instrumental that shifts rhythms and melodic modes during the song. Instruments include the changgo drum set against a melodic instrument, such as the gayageum or ajaeng.[4]

North Korean music follows the principles of Juche (self-reliance) ideology. The characteristic marchlike, upbeat music of North Korea is carefully composed, rarely individually performed, and its lyrics and imagery have a clear socialist content. Some religious or original folk music may still exist in North Korea, but reliable sources are absent in the west.

The most common music genre is a type of patriotic song known as taejung kayo,which developed in the 1980s. The songs are generally sung by female performers or choirs accompanied by a large orchestra. The composition and performance of all music in North Korea is controlled by the state, and all lyrics are optimistic. Much music is composed for movies, and the works of the Korean composer Yun I San (1917-1995), who spent much of his life in Germany, are popular in North Korea.

In North Korea, traditional instruments have been adapted in order to allow them to compete with Western instruments. Many older forms remain and are used in both traditional performances that have been attuned to the ideas of the modern North Korean communist state and to accompany modern songs in praise of Kim ll Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong il.

External links


  1. ^ "Pop music of Asia". IIAS Newsletter Online. Retrieved September 27, 2005. 
  2. ^ Reuters "N.Korean flees for love of jazz piano". Reuters. Retrieved October 1, 2008. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c Provine, Rob, Hwang, Okon and Kershaw, Andy. "Our Life Is Precisely a Song". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 160-169. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  5. ^ Wangjaesan Light Music Band, "The General Uses Warp. Korean Central Television

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