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Interrogated in North Korea for Playing the Wrong Song

I’ve been to the DPRK–sort of. On a trip to Seoul, we took a tour of the southern side of the DMZ. At one point, we were led into one of the huts straddling the border where negotiations are supposed to take place. The border runs right down the middle of a conference table. By wandering over to the north side of the table, I was actually in North Korea. It was surreal.

I’ve been fascinated by that weird hermit state for years, which is why I couldn’t help but read this article from the BBC.

Fifteen years ago, Kim Cheol-woong was a successful pianist living in North Korea – but his life suddenly changed when someone heard him playing a Western love song.

Cheol-woong sat down at his piano in 2001 to practise the piece of music he planned to play when he proposed to his girlfriend. Childhood sweethearts, they had known each other since he was eight years old – they had started learning the piano together.

It was the ballad, A Comme Amour (L for Love) by Richard Clayderman – schmaltzy and not to everyone’s taste, but only in North Korea could playing it in one’s own home be dangerous.

Someone passing by overheard the French music and filed a report to the state security department.

“I didn’t realise that playing a banned song could be such a dangerous thing,” says Cheol-woong. He soon found out.

“Where did you hear that music first? How did you feel when you heard that music? Who have you played this song to?” officers asked at an interrogation that lasted for hours.

Continue reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37808 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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