North Korean girl band disappears from TV

September 7, 2015
North Korea's Moranbong Band performs in Pyongyang on May 21, 2014. (Yonhap)

North Korea’s Moranbong Band performs in Pyongyang on May 21, 2014. (Yonhap)

By Do Je-hae

The Morangbong Band founded with the support of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has not been seen on TV since mid-July, raising speculations that the all-female band might have been disbanded.

The band, which has been widely reported as a symbol of the country’s modernity with their signature electronic accompaniment and stylish outfits, had replaced the more traditional Unhasu Orchestra three years ago as the North’s most popular musical tool for state propaganda.

According to media reports, Moranbong hasn’t been seen on Korean Central Television since July 15. Kim Jong-un had been seen in the audience at some of their concerts to mark national celebrations, like the founding of the Workers’ Party.

The reason for their long absence is not known. North Korea recently announced the establishment of a new outfit called the Chongbong Band. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported last month that Moranbong has been replaced by Chongbong as the former’s members left the band to get married, while some were reportedly purged. The new band made its Russian debut on Aug.31, the Korean Central News Agency said.

A seven-member group, Chongbong was seen singing upbeat tunes. Kim’s wife Ri Sol-ju, a former singer, was reportedly involved in the founding of the Band.

Since its founding in 2012, the young North Korean leader had shown a liking for Moranbong. In a relatively short time, the band produced some famous singers such as Ryu Jin-ah, who holds the title “Merited Actor,” which is one of the highest state honors for artists and entertainers in North Korea.

With the sudden disappearance of Moranbong, speculation is rife about what has also happened to Hyun Song-wol, the director of the band. Hyun, a lead singer with the renowned electronic Bocheongbo Band during the Kim Jong-il era, was widely reported to be involved with Kim prior to his marriage.

Hyun was chosen to make a keynote speech during a nationwide congress of artists last year, displaying her band’s status in Pyongyang’s cultural scene. “We will continue to devote ourselves to artistic creation for the people and the army, which are the general’s (Kim) first priority,” Hyun was shown saying on state TV.

It is not known whether Hyun has a role in Chongbong.

Morangbong attracted media attention for its contrasting styles to other bands from North Korea, particularly in comparison to Unhasu, the representative North Korean ensemble during the final years of Kim Jong-il’s rule.

Their singers may have looked different in their attire, but the messages at their concerts were basically the same as others, which were to praise their leaders and their country. Its lead singers dance around on stage in sequined dresses while singing about the “glorious leadership and benevolent characters” of their past and present rulers.

But they mix propaganda with Western music. The band played an instrumental version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” during a concert in 2012.

Unhasu, which was disbanded after a scandal involving some of its key musicians and conductors, was a traditional ensemble, almost always performing with tenors, sopranos and a huge choir in the background.