News / Asia

Norwegian Swoons North Korea With a-Ha Diplomacy

North Koreans attend a rally to support a statement by a spokesman for the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army vowing to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War as well as boasting of the North’s ownership of “lighter and smaller nukes” and its ability to execute “surgical strikes.” March 7, 2013.
North Koreans attend a rally to support a statement by a spokesman for the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army vowing to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War as well as boasting of the North’s ownership of “lighter and smaller nukes” and its ability to execute “surgical strikes.” March 7, 2013.
Sarah Williams
At a time of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, one of Pyongyang’s old friends was back in North Korea last month trying to spread his own brand of cultural diplomacy between East and West.

Norwegian director Morten Traavik, accompanied by a crew from his country’s TV2 television channel, was in North Korea in March to record students at Pyongyang’s Kum Song Music School. 

Norwegian Director Morten Traavik in Pyongyang during a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square on March 7, 2013.Norwegian Director Morten Traavik in Pyongyang during a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square on March 7, 2013.
x
Norwegian Director Morten Traavik in Pyongyang during a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square on March 7, 2013.
Norwegian Director Morten Traavik in Pyongyang during a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square on March 7, 2013.
“We definitely felt that we were in the middle of something geopolitically significant,” said Traavik. The Norwegians saw a mass rally in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square and viewed public transport and ambulances covered in camouflage nets.

The trip was the seventh made by Traavik, who has worked to develop cultural ties between the two countries.  His 2012 video of the Kum Song Music School’s accordion students playing “Take On Me” - originally a song recorded in 1985 by the Norwegian pop group A-ha - was a viral hit on YouTube.

During this recent visit, Traavik wanted to expand the school’s recording of A-ha’s “Hunting High and Low” album, including the Norwegian group’s other international hit, “The Sun Always Shines on TV.”

North Korean students at Pyongyang's Kum song Music School perform for Norwegian television cameras. March 12, 2013North Korean students at Pyongyang's Kum song Music School perform for Norwegian television cameras. March 12, 2013
x
North Korean students at Pyongyang's Kum song Music School perform for Norwegian television cameras. March 12, 2013
North Korean students at Pyongyang's Kum song Music School perform for Norwegian television cameras. March 12, 2013
“We’ll be releasing the whole cover album later this year,” Traavik said.  “As an artist, I like to follow a good idea through to the end, and to see how much farther you can take it.  It seemed logical to do the whole album as well.”

Mounting tensions and escalating rhetoric between North Korea and the United Nations following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test caused other international delegations to cancel their visits. But Traavik said his North Korean hosts were glad the Norwegians stuck to their plans.

“On one level, you could say [the tension] was definitely noticeable,” Traavik noticed. “But on another level, daily life went on as usual. People went bowling on Women’s Day, which is a holiday in North Korea. They went about their daily chores, and did not seem too upset about their situation.”

The Pyongyang rally was held in North Korea on March 7,  to protest joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises which followed the nuclear test. Traavik estimates almost 500,000 people took part.

“It is impressive, and to some people, slightly frightening to see so big a crowd with such mass choreography,” he said. “Everything has been drilled and synchronized to the almost tenth of a second.”

Unlike previous visits, the Norwegians were permitted to use their cell phones. “In North Korean terms, that’s a huge leap forward for North Korea’s connectability and relations to the outside world,” Traavik said. 

The television team was able to tweet and instagram photos to Norway, as well as upload video by satellite.  North Korea subsequently decided not to allow foreigners to keep their smart phones while visiting the country.

The Norwegians also ventured to Panmunjom on the Demilitarized Zone, along the border with South Korea.  They arrived the day after North Korea scrapped the 1953 Korean Armistice that ended the Korean War.

“I could notice that compared to previous trips that the border guards on the North Korean side were a tad more jumpy than they had been before,” Traavik said. “I regard a lot of the political maneuvers on both sides in the Korean conflict as little more than posturing, than a ritual which is necessary for the most conservative forces on both sides to maintain their positions,” he said.

Traavik said he believes an actual confrontation is unlikely.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs