Radiodiffusion Internasionaal Annexe

August 22, 2010, 12:00 am
Filed under: North Korea


What do ethnomusicologists and Cultural Revolutions have in common? They both hate rock and roll.

Now, I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of static for that comment. I know there are of plenty of folks working in ethnomusicology – including a few close friends – who don’t actually hate rock and roll. But a good number of those in the field are searching for music that has not been contaminated by Western influences. And on the other hand, you have Cultural Revolutions – be it political or religious – where in most cases anything remotely Western was destroyed.

Music is, and has always been, the product of cross pollination from the beginning of time – back to the beginning of civilization. The Portuguese introduced the guitar pretty much everywhere they went. The Germans unloaded a ship load of accordions into Latin America, forever changing the rhythms of their music. Brass instruments from Europe were shipped all over Africa. In more recent times, synthesizers have pretty much taken over the planet… And let’s not forget about Radio.

Once the Radio introduced, music from the around the world bled across borders to influence people who would have not normally heard that stuff to begin with. And it’s those collisions of cultures that produce some of the most amazing music – at least to my ears. Only in the most totalitarian states has Western influences been shut out. And when that happens, you get something like this.

Catalog number ㄱ – 809804 ᄆ– 28017 / ᄆ– 28018 on the Korean Gramophone Record label of Pyongyang, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. No release date listed.

February 28, 2009, 11:01 pm
Filed under: North Korea

We Always Look Up to The Central Committee of The Party

There are places that I thought I would never find records from, like Brunei or Iraq. Then, there were countries that I didn’t know what I would find… Let’s say, Eritrea. And then there are places that I thought I would have no problem finding records from, but haven’t had any luck… For instance, Burma. Of course some of these countries have had Civil Wars or Cultural Revolutions, where most of the recordings were destroyed. But then there are other regions that just never had a recording industry, or the musicians did not venture out to other countries.

The best weapon for hunting records, is information. That was one of the reasons I started this whole mess. The more you know, the easier it is to find what you are looking for in the endless depths of the vinyl jungle. And, where you can find one band or artist… You can usually find another. Where I have discovered the more interesting music scenes, there tended to be a handful of musicians, a record label or two, and a studio to record. Studio being a somewhat loose term, for example most of the great music from Benin was recorded live to two track on a portable reel to reel tape machine.

On the other hand, be it governmental control, religious restrictions or what have you, some places you just aren’t going to find anything. North Korea is a prime example of that. Since the government controls all aspects of the media, any recordings would have to be approved. The only real “band” from that country would be the state sponsored Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, who make Tangerine Dream sound like Black Sabbath. Only recently has what Westerners would consider Modern Pop Music has been exposed to the outside world as heard on the Sublime FrequenciesRadio Pyongyang disc.

But with compilations popping up like The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru, 1970’s Algerian Proto-Raï Underground, and bands like Konono N°1 coming to light after being in existence for a quarter century, it makes you wonder: What else is out there? What have I missed? Maybe there were some kids in a basement somewhere with an electric guitar, or keyboard or even some kind of electrified gayageum making some unholy racket. And maybe, just maybe, there’s reel to reel, cassette recordings or possibly even some bootleg X-Ray records floating around with those unimaginable sounds. That is what keeps people like me, and other obsessive types like myself, constantly searching.

Catalog number ㄱ – 809804 ᄆ– 28015 / ᄆ– 28016 on the Korean Gramophone Record label of Pyongyang, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. No release date listed.