Pyongyang Rock City

Meet the hitmakers of the Hermit Kingdom.


PYONGYANG, North Korea — On the sculpted entrance to the East Pyongyang Grand Theater, a woman, graceful as a mermaid, played the flute as she floated through a sea of stars. Out in the parking lot, locals played tennis in the September sun on a court painted onto the concrete, making do with a ball long since stripped of its green fuzz. "This is a special theater of the president!" a loudspeaker boomed.

I was here to see Samjiyon, North Korea’s "newly formed popular band." This being North Korea, "popular band" has somewhat different connotations than the usual guitar-bass-drums four-piece singing about girls: Samjiyon is a collective of dozens of performers who jam on violins, pianos, and accordions in praise of the ruling Kim dynasty and the exploits of the North Korean people. It’s a church band for North Korea’s state religion of nationalism.

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