South Korean pop stars stage rare concert in North Korea

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Members of K-pop girl band “Red Velvet” pose for a photo after a rehearsal for a rare concert at the 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre in Pyongyang on April 1, 2018. AFP

SEOUL (AFP) –Top South Korean musical acts including a K-pop girl band held a rare concert in North Korea yesterday in the latest reconciliatory gesture before a rare inter-Korean summit.

Yesterday’s event – which was the first concert by South Korean artists in the North for more than a decade – comes as a diplomatic thaw quickens on the peninsula after months of military tensions.

The 120-member group – 11 musical acts as well as dancers, technicians and taekwondo artists – flew to Pyongyang on Saturday and performed a concert last night.

South Korean singers staged a two-hour concert at the 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theater.The performances reportedly started at 6:30 pm (South Korean time).

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife attended the concert yesterday, Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported. The agency cited the South’s culture ministry as its source.

South Korean taekwondo athletes also staged a performance in Pyongyang yesterday before performing together with the North’s practitioners today.

The rapprochement was triggered by the South’s Winter Olympics, to which the North’s leader sent athletes, cheerleaders and his powerful sister as an envoy.

Mr Kim followed up by agreeing to a summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in, and reportedly to another with US President Donald Trump.

The young leader also met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week during his first overseas trip.

The inter-Korean summit, the third after meetings in 2000 and 2007, will be held on April 27.

No date has been set for the US-North Korean summit although it is expected before the end of May.

In another sign of eased tensions, annual US-South Korean military exercises which got under way in the South yesterday will last for just one month compared to some two months normally.

This year’s drills feature fewer strategic weapons such as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Seoul’s military has said. The deployment of such powerful weaponry during past drills has frequently drawn an angry response from the North.

The most closely-watched group that performed yesterday was Red Velvet, part of the South Korea’s hugely popular K-pop phenomenon that has taken audiences in Asia and beyond by storm in recent decades.

The five-member girl band is known for a mix of upbeat electronic music, stylish fashion and high-voltage choreography.

Joy, one of the five members, missed the trip to Pyongyang due to her TV drama shooting schedule, their agency has announced.

Despite the North’s isolation and strict curbs on unauthorised foreign culture, backed up by prison terms, K-pop has become increasingly popular in the North, thanks to flash drives smuggled across the border with China.

South’s musicians and artists will hold a bigger concert tomorrow along with North Korean artists.

Other Seoul stars joining the concerts include Cho Yong-pil, a singer who held a solo sell-out concert in Pyongyang in 2005.

Mr Kim’s late father and longtime ruler, Kim Jong Il, was known to be a fan of the 68-year-old singer.

Another famed singer, Choi Jin-hee, is set to perform for the fourth time in the North and to sing “Maze of Love” – a pan-peninsula hit and one of the late Kim’s favourites.

“I hope that something similar will happen during this concert held in response (to the North’s Seoul concert),” Do Jong-hwan, Seoul’s culture minister leading the delegation, told reporters in Pyongyang.

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