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Female Band Hopes North Korean Pop Stylings Will Win Fame in South


In the struggle for pop music fame, it helps to have a unique selling point, especially in a saturated media market like South Korea's. An all-girl group of musical hopefuls in Seoul like to teach the world to sing - North Korean style.

Most up-and-coming pop bands here in South Korea do not feature an accordion as one of their lead instruments. This band features two.

On an afternoon of pouring rain, five attractive young women aged 19 to 28 gather in a small dance studio in southern Seoul to practice their music.

Their unique sound reflects a unique common identity: all five women defected from North Korea within the last three years.

They call themselves "Dallae" - naming their band after a sweet berry plant that Koreans of North and South harvest in the springtime.

As trained musicians and dancers back in the North, the women say they did not suffer the same type of severe hunger and deprivation that drives so many thousands of other North Koreans to leave their country. Most of them defected in order to join a family member who had already made the difficult and dangerous journey to the South.

Twenty-eight-year-old Han Ok Jeong says nowadays, she lives a dual life.

Han says in her private life, she tries to blend in with South Korea's modern and fast-paced capitalist society. But in her music, she wants to stand out as a North Korean.

Dallae accentuates its traditional Northern sound in its first CD, set to debut in South Korea in August.

This single, "Mot Jaengi" - which translates loosely as "Stylish Guy" - is based on a form of North Korean music called a "trot." However, as the title indicates, the lyrics tell the story of a Korean woman's love for a man who wears the latest trendy fashions.

Such a song would almost certainly be forbidden in the North, where the Communist elite tolerates absolutely no music it deems to be subversive.

The women say they did not know each other before arriving in the South, and were brought together by their manager and producer.

Though they do not specify exactly how they came to South Korea, nearly all North Korean defectors cross into China, then pass into a Southeast Asian country before making the journey here. If they are caught by Chinese authorities, they risk being sent home, where they are likely to face severe punishment.

The Dallae members say they enjoy their new life here in the South, but 19-year-old Kang Yoo Eun says there are still some things she has trouble getting used to.

Kang says she is always shocked when she sees South Korean boys and girls with their arms around each other in public. She says doing that, or even holding hands, would be unthinkable back in the North.

The women say if they become rich and famous, they would like to find a way to help improve social welfare for people in their impoverished homeland. Their ultimate dream, they say, is to return home and see family members they left behind and maybe even give a performance in the northern half of a reunified Korea.

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