|Members||Band Leader: Seon-u Hyang-hui|
|Revised Romanization||Moranbong akdan|
The Moranbong Band (Chosŏn'gŭl: 모란봉악단 moranbong akdan), also known as Moran Hill Orchestra, is an all-female music group in North Korea whose members were selected by the country's supreme leader Kim Jong-un. Performing interpretive styles of pop, rock, and fusion, they are the first all-female band from the DPRK, and made their world debut on 7 July 2012. Their varied musical style has been described as symphonic because it is "putting together different kinds of sounds, and ending in a harmonious, pleasing result."
The need for a modern pop band in North Korea has been attributed to the regime's necessity to please important social strata: Pyongyang elites, military and technical professionals, women,:167 and in particular, the youth.:165 The existence of the band suggests the acceptability of fashion items such as mini-skirts and high heels for women,:167 and their short hairstyles have become popular among middle-class Pyongyang girls. The band quickly became a cultural symbol of limited openness to Western influences to the youths of North Korea.:167 In addition to the targeted elite groups, the band's exposure has concerned virtually the whole population with TV sets.
Founding of the new, more modern band can be seen as an acknowledgement that several other light-music bands, such as the Wangjaesan Light Music Band and Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, have gone out of fashion. Features of the Moranbong Band suggest that it's a response to the success of South Korean hallyu, Korean Wave, of contemporary pop music. Sherri L. Ter Molen goes on to say that the band's debut roughly coinciding with the release of Korean Wave star Psy's "Gangnam Style" was not incidental.
According to KCNA, "Kim Jong Un organized the Moranbong band as required by the new century, prompted by a grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year in which a new century of Juche Korea begins".
The band was set up to perform regular televised concerts as entertainment.:166
The band has performed on at least 14 occasions. Since the debut in July 2012, the band's extremely Western look has been toned down considerably.
The band debuted on July 6, 2012. This first performance featured Western popular culture imagery and music, including Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Snow White, Winnie the Pooh, the "Theme from Rocky" and Frank Sinatra's "My Way". Other Western music included "Czardas", "Zigeunerweisen, "La Reine de Saba", "Menuet", "Penelope", and "Serenade de l’Étoile", as well as "The Duel", described as "a popular song"; '"Victory", introduced as "a rap song"; and "Dallas": "a country music selection." Twelve cartoon film scores were also presented in a piece called "The Collection of World Fairy Tale Songs". Kim Jong-un's wife Ri Sol-ju, made her first public appearance in the audience. These two novel policies — openly celebrating Western popular culture and publicly acknowledging the leader's spouse, along with considerable coverage of the event in the West — is thought to have served Kim's agenda. The event allowed Kim to flaunt openness while not making any substantial promises about changes in policy.:166 As the debut was also officially set up to inspire textile workers, it can be seen as carrying a message of improvement of living-standards.:167 As South Korean media raised questions about a fundamental opening up of North Korea's culture being foreshadowed by the concert, North Korea responded that "there would be no such policy shift as expected by enemy countries", and that the performance followed Kim Jong-il's maxim to "plant feet in our land, and lift eyes to see the world."
The band's second appearance, at a Korean War commemoration, acted as a reminder that the exceptional repertoire of the debut was not a complete shift in North Korean cultural policy. In August 2013, the band disappeared from public in midst of rumors of a purge of classical musicians in Pyongyang. When the band returned after four months, they performed alongside with the much more conservative State Merited Orchestra and Chorus.:166 Differences in style are highlighted by the joint performance of Moranbong Band's arrangement of "Without a Break", originally a military march, the rhythm of which the State Merited Orchestra and Chorus had trouble to maintain. In the first of the two joint concerts, the State Merited Orchestra and Chorus dominated. However, by the second concert the Moranbong Band was again the more prominent one.
The band just several months old raised its curtain for its significant demonstration performance proclaiming its birth before the world." The repertoire of the performance divided into two parts included colorful numbers such as light music "Arirang", female vocal quintet "Let's Learn", light music "Yeppuni", light music and song "Victors", female trio "Silk Weaving Girl of Nyongbyon", string quartet "We Can't Live without his Care", foreign light music "Chardash", "Victory", "Song of Gypsy", female sextet "Fluttering Red Flag" and light music and song "Suite of World Fable Songs." The 7 July 2012 audience was composed of Choe Ryong-hae, Jang Song-thaek, Kim Ki-nam, Hyon Chol-hae, Kim Yang-gon, Kim Yong-il, Kim Phyong-hae, Choe Pu-il, Kim Myong-guk, Kim Yong-chol, Jo Kyong-chol and "officials, creators, artists, writers and journalists of literary and art, media and art educational institutions".
The Moranbong Band has brought forth many songs in praise of Kim Jong-un, many of which feature Songun, or military-first, themed lyrics,:166 and music videos. The party organ Rodong Sinmun printed full notation of such songs on its first page as a signal for service people of the Korean People's Army to memorize the tunes and lyrics. The drastic changes of key in the musical composition of the songs has been interpreted to carry a message "that rapid change is coming, and things may end very differently than where they began".:167
Unlike any other North Korean orchestra, the Moranbong Band consists of only females. In contrast to South Korean girl bands, the members of the Moranbong Band play their own instruments. Due to North Korean musical education aspiring for precision and accuracy, their playing abilities are described as "very accomplished and tight". The large number of members has enabled them to play a variety of different styles of music as well as some technically challenging arrangements. Changes in the lineup have not changed the musical style of the band, suggesting that members are swapped because of their technical ability rather than artistic input. Members of the band hold high ranks in the military and, with the exception of the debut, have appeared in public in uniforms and with insignia. Thus the band is in fact a "military orchestra" instead of a "pop band". After the debut, the extravagance of the clothes and jewelry was been toned down, hairstyles shortened, and the band members reportedly were placed on a diet to make them appear uniform in size.
- Band Leader: Seon-u Hyang-hui (선우향희) previously a violinist in the Samjiyeon Band in the Mansudae Art Troupe.
- Hong Su-kyeong (홍수경)
- Cha Young-mi (차영미)
- Yoo Eun-jeong (유은정)
- Kim Hyang-soon (김향순)
- Ri Hui-kyeong ( 리희경)
- Choi Jeong-im (최정임)
- Kim Young-mi (김영미)
- Ri Yoon-hui (리윤희)
- Kang Ryeong-hui (강령희)
- Ri Seol-lan (리설란)
- Kim Yoo-kyeong (김유경)
- Kim Seol-mi (김설미)
- Ryu Jin-a (류진아)
- Pak Mi-kyeong (박미경)
- Jung Su-hyang (정수향)
- Pak Seon-hyeong (박선향)
- Ri Myeong-hui (리명희)
The band is immensely popular in North Korea, and visitors to the country have reported people dancing to Moranbong Band's songs in the streets and shops closing during television performances.
- One reviewer said, "The Moranbong girls are not what you’d expect from an unfashionably totalitarian regime where grey is the new grey. Their skirts are short, the hair is trendy, the music danceable. It could just about pass as a Eurovision entry from Azerbaijan."
- Another reviewer said, "We must take care, however, not to see these talented performers dressed in flashy costume as new archetypes for the New Modern Woman in the DPRK. According to Nicola Dibben’s theorizing of the female representation in popular music, “It would be hopelessly naive to declare that such tactics are exclusively empowering in their influence.” Rather, the gender division of the performance as a whole—from the stage through the audience space—should be examined for context.
- A third commentator said, "If state propaganda is to be believed, the Moranbong Band’s first performance was also meant to stimulate production in the textile sector, an important node of which Kim Jong Un and his female companion had visited the day before the ensemble’s premiere in Pyongyang." "Consider the jewelry line-up on the Moranbong singers..."
- Another commentator said, "If a candidate exists that might represent the edge of a possible NK-pop invasion, it is surely the Moranbong Band, which debuted at a concert for Kim Jong-un in July 2012—not incidentally, the same month in which Psy’s “Gangnam Style” was released."
- Clara Fontana (16 May 2015). "Far from the Moran Hill Orchestra...". DailyNK. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Debut of Moranbong Band
- "Kim Jong Un Has His Own All-Girl Pop Band". Inquisitr. 31 May 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-01.
- Stebner, Beth (29 May 2013). "North Korea's five-part girl band, formed by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, blast out hits like 'Let's Study!' and 'Our Dear Leader!'". The Daily News. Retrieved 2013-06-02.
- "Kim Jong Un Appreciates Demonstration Performance of Newly Organized Moranbong Band". KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY of DPRK. 7 July 2012. Retrieved 2013-06-02.
- Pekka Korhonen (March 4, 2014). "Rock Gospels: Analyzing the Artistic Style of Moranbong Band". Sino-NK. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
- Adam Cathcart; Christopher Green; Steven Denney (December 2014). "How Authoritarian Regimes Maintain Domain Consensus: North Korea’s Information Strategies in the Kim Jong-un Era" (PDF). The Review of Korean Studies 17 (2): 145–178. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
- Daniel Tudor; James Pearson (April 14, 2015). North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 72–73. ISBN 978-1-4629-1512-5. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
- Ter Molen, Sherri L. (25 June 2013). "The Korean Wave’s Northern Undertow: Cultural Hybridity and the Moranbong Band". SinoNK.com. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
- The Korea Foundation (March 30, 2013). Korea Focus - September 2012. i-ePUB, Inc. p. 2. ISBN 978-89-86090-89-5. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
- The Korea Foundation (March 30, 2013). Korea Focus - October 2012. i-ePUB, Inc. p. 2. ISBN 978-89-86090-90-1. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
- Jimin Lee (April 8, 2013). "Moranbong Band: Joseon Style Electronic Music on a New Level". Sino-NK. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
- Jae-Jung Suh (2013). Origins of North Korea's Juche: Colonialism, War, and Development. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-7391-7658-0.
- Draudt, Darcie; Lee, Jimin (3 May 2013). "Packaged and Controlled by the Masculine State: Moranbong Band and Gender in New Chosun-Style Performance". SinoNK. Retrieved 2013-06-02.
- Samheroyang channel on YouTube
- Stanley, Tim (29 May 2013). "Meet North Korea's new girl band: five girls who just wanna have state-sanctioned fun". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-06-01.
- Cathcart, Adam (9 August 2013). "Songun Mini-Skirt: Ri Sol-ju, the Moranbong Band, and North Korean Fashion Norms". Sino-NK. Retrieved 2013-06-02.