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S. Korea to send heavyweights of K-pop to North Korea

South Korea on Tuesday agreed to send a 160-member art troupe including pop singers Lee Sun-hee, Cho Yong-pil and girl group Red Velvet to Pyongyang for two concerts planned for early April, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Unification.

The announcement is a result of working-level talks held between the two Koreas earlier in the day to hammer out details of the Pyongyang performances.

The art troupe will hold two performances between March 31 and April 3 at the Ryugyong Chung Ju-yung Gymnasium and East Pyongyang Grande Theatre in Pyongyang, according to the statement. The specific schedule for the performances has yet to be announced. 

Red Velvet (S.M. Entertainment)
Red Velvet (S.M. Entertainment)

Lee Yun-sang, a singer-songwriter and producer professionally known as Yun Sang, headed the South Korean delegation to the working-level talks Tuesday. He has also been named the musical director of the South’s art troupe to Pyongyang, marking the first time for a South Korean entertainer to represent a delegation in inter-Korean talks.

Yun Sang’s North Korean counterpart was Hyon Song-wol, head of the all-female Moranbong Band, who led the 140-member Samjiyon Orchestra to South Korea during the Winter Olympics last month.

Rock band YB with lead vocalist Yoon Do-hyun, ballad diva Baek Ji-young, and Girls’ Generation’s Seohyun were also among those tapped to join the troupe.

In a follow-up press briefing, Yun Sang said the art troupe is considering to use a flight via a western route to reach Pyongyang, but details regarding the travel route and accommodation have to be further discussed with relevant parties. Choosing a travel route involves cooperation from the international community and other practical matters have yet to be decided, he noted.

According to Yun Sang, although North Korea offered the option of using its iconic Koryo Hotel for accommodations, the proposal needs to be further considered. The hotel is where its government often accommodates its VIP guests including former NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman.

Tuesday’s talks lasted nearly four hours after beginning at around 10 a.m. It was held at the Tongilgak administrative building on the northern side of the Demilitarized Zone, the Unification Ministry said.

The latest round of cultural exchange was a result of the two Koreas’ talks in the run-up to and after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The South announced its plan to send an art troupe and taekwondo demonstration team to the North when South Korean special envoys met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang earlier this month.

Yun Sang, a 50-year-old Berklee College of Music-educated singer, was tapped for the position given his expertise in diverse musical genres and his ability to produce the performances in a short amount of time, Seoul said. It added that in selecting the head of the art troupe, its policy was to select a person well-versed in the characteristics of each generation of Korean pop music.

On preparations for the performance, a Unification Ministry official said Seoul is likely to dispatch an advance team to Pyongyang prior to the April concert. North Korea in February sent a similar team tasked with the inspection of candidate venues and stage equipment.
 
Hyun Song-wol (left), leader of North Korea all-female Moranbong Club and Yun Sang (right), South Korean singer-songwriter enter the Tongilgak administrative building on the northern side of the Demilitarized Zone on Tuesday for working-level talks. (Ministry of Unification)
Hyun Song-wol (left), leader of North Korea all-female Moranbong Club and Yun Sang (right), South Korean singer-songwriter enter the Tongilgak administrative building on the northern side of the Demilitarized Zone on Tuesday for working-level talks. (Ministry of Unification)

The official added that a government task force was formed to support the Pyongyang performances.

Seoul’s Culture Ministry said the performance would center on South Korean pop music.

For some in the team, the upcoming trip will be an opportunity to revisit North Korea.

Cho Yong-pil held a solo concert in 2005 in Pyongyang, where he sang both his hit songs and popular North Korean songs. Cho is one of the most influential and revered figures in the South Korean music scene.

Lee Sun-hee also traveled to the North in 2003 for a joint concert marking the opening of the Ryugyong Chung Ju-yung Gymnasium. Lee’s signature song “To J,” was performed by the Samjiyon Orchestra last month in the South.

YB, formerly known as Yoon Do-hyun Band, sang the band’s 2002 World Cup anthem in Pyongyang in 2002, when the band participated in South Korean broadcaster MBC’s special show in the North’s capital.

In the past years, South Korean K-pop artists, including popular K-pop groups of the 1990s -- Sechskies and Fin.K.L, Shinhwa and Baby V.O.X. -- have performed in North Korea as part of the divided Koreas’ efforts to maintain cultural exchange.

“It will be difficult for us to express any personal feelings about the issue of denuclearization on stage (at the Pyongyang concert),” Yun Sang said at the press briefing.

“Our foremost task is to deliver the same emotions and natural mood as we show here to North Korea and fellow Koreans in the North.”

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)

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