SOUTH KOREA: North Korean girls flee propaganda for pop, asTallae Music Band try to make it big in the...
- Title: SOUTH KOREA: North Korean girls flee propaganda for pop, asTallae Music Band try to make it big in the capitalist music market
- Date: 24th August 2006
- Summary: YANGPYEONG, SOUTH KOREA (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF MEMBERS PREPARING FOR REHEARSAL (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) LEAD VOCALIST HAN OK-JUNG SAYING: "All the other groups will perform to dance music. But we will have to do cute and fun moves and I feel pressured because we have to be entertaining. I'm even more curious about what other people think of us."
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- Story Text: The Spice Girls never had to worry about becoming political prisoners and Britney Spears never had to remember the words of the "Song of Coast Artillerymen", but the members of Tallae Music Band surely did.
The group is made up of five young women who put their lives at risk to leave Stalinist North Korea. Now, they dream of making it big in the capitalist South's pop music market, where many female artists who wear scanty outfits, sing sultry songs and perform steamy dance moves top the local music charts.
With two accordions, a song book of tunes favoured by the senior set and dance moves used in the North's famous Mass Games, even their manager admits their music may sound strange to younger South Koreans.
But it is all steeped in a shared Korean tradition, delivered by women with smiles made for television to an audience in the South that has been willing to embrace entertainment products that come with the theme of Korean unity.
The members of Tallae, which is Korean for a wild plant that is seen as heralding spring, range in age from 19 to 28. They left the North seeking freedom, not stardom, but would be happy to become celebrities in their new home.
They have sung for communist party cadres, danced for members of the North Korea's People's Army and impressed the proletariat with feverish fingers over accordions.
"I will try my best for the day that North and South Koreans can listen to our music and dance together," said lead vocalist Han Ok-jung, 28, who once was a singer with a propaganda band for the North's Workers' Party.
Lim Yoo-kyung, who plays the accordion, says she likes Britney Spears.
"She is such a good dancer and singer. And the power felt by watching Britney. . . I fell into it. I love her. I think I really like her," she said.
Up until now, a few defectors have achieved minor celebrity status as entertainers in the South, but there has been no group of defectors who have made it big in the South's music world.
Recently, the group attended their first rehearsal for a music performance show on cable network KMTV called "Music Showcase," where the latest music artists perform their songs in front of an audience.
One of Tallae's first singles is called "My Dandy". It speaks of innocent love over music suited for a foxtrot.
Surrounded by the South Korean stars, Lim was nervous that their music was so different.
"All the other groups will perform to dance music. But we will have to do cute and fun moves and I feel pressured because we have to be entertaining. I'm even more curious about what other people think of us," she said.
North Korean music, with titles such as "Song of Defending Homeland", is typically filled with communist ideology.
Most Western music is banned in North Korea. And even though South Korean pop culture is slowly creeping in, it is still a crime to listen to South Korean music.
Kim Yong-chul, the manager for the group, said he was looking for something new and he came upon the idea of a defector girl group. He says he wanted to create a group that represented North Korean culture, not to make another South Korean singing group.
"They (Tallae members) always ask how they can make it if South Korean singers are sexier, have better songs and are prettier but all we say is we are not trying to make another South Korean singer but singers from North Korea who can communicate North Korean culture to the South Korean masses," he told Reuters.
The Tallae members plan to wear traditional Korean dress called "Hanbok," but in the studio, they dress in the casual clothes favoured by young women in Seoul, such as stylish tops, short skirts and pink baseball hats.
August will be a big month for them with their music hitting stores and a debut scheduled for national television.
Apart from the worries of whether they will become successful are concerns about their families back in the North.
North Korea has guilt by association, human rights workers say, under which it arrests the family of a person who has committed a crime or defected and sends them to political prison camps.
Tallae has been together for about a month, sometimes practising as much as 16 hours a day. In that short time, they have developed a close bond.
In 2005, 1,387 North Koreans defected to the South compared to 1,894 the previous year, the Unification Ministry said.
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- Embargoed:8th September 2006 13:00