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North Korean arts troupe charms South Koreans on eve of Olympics

By Yonhap News Agency
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North Korean arts troupe charms South Koreans on eve of Olympics
The Korean unification flag appears on the backdrop during a performance by North Korea's art troupe Samjiyon Orchestra on Thursday at the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangneung. Photo courtesy of Yonhap

GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- A North Korean art troupe staged a rare performance in front of hundreds of South Koreans on Thursday night to celebrate the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The 140 member-strong Samjiyon Orchestra led by Hyon Song-wol, head of the all-female Moranbong Band, began the concert at 8 p.m. at the 998-seat Saimdang Hall of the Gangneung Arts Center in the Olympic sub-host city of Gangneung.

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It marked the first art performance by North Koreans in the rival South since August 2002.

The audience started to pile into the hall at 7:40 p.m. The government invited members of families divided by the Korean War and the socially disadvantaged, while 560 seats were reserved for ordinary citizens who had been chosen by lot.

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The Moranbong Band took the center of the stage, and orchestra members sat next. At the back of the stage were North Korean percussionists against the backdrop of a large screen.

The South Koreans responded with hearty cheers when a North Korean emcee in a red suit came onto the stage and said, "Nice to meet you all. We are so touched and happy to see you as if reuniting with separated parents and brothers."

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He continued, "Samjiyon Orchestra visited here, Gangneung, to celebrate the Olympics, a happy occasion for Korean people ... With the celebratory songs that we've prepared, we hope to lighten up the festival and make our people stronger."

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The performance started with North Korean singer Lee Kyung-sook singing "Bangapseumnida," or "Nice to Meet you" in Korean.

The North Korean musicians performed a wide variety of music, including popular South Korean songs such as Choi Jin-hee's "Maze of Love," Lee Sun-hee's "To J" and Shim Soo-bong's "Man is Ship, Woman is Port." Some of the songs were rearranged to be sung in harmony. They also belted out Western folk songs like "Old Black Joe" and "Red River Valley" as well as the opera song "Carmen Overture."

The performance went without a hitch. The two sides discussed until the last minute whether to perform certain songs because of possible political implications. As a result, North Korean singers tweaked some of the lyrics to avoid possible controversy.

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The project orchestra is comprised of musicians from six or seven famous North Korean music teams, including Samjiyon Band, Moranbong Band, Chongbong Band, the State Symphony Orchestra of the DPRK, Mansudae Art Troupe and the Korean People's Army State Merited Chorus. Among the 140 performers, some 80 were orchestra members while the rest of them were singers and dancers.

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Their second and final performance will be held at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

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