Remember that video of the five young North Korean accordionists’ rendition of A-ha’s Take On Me? It’s totally gone viral since we showed it to you last Friday (watch it if you haven’t!). Evan Ramstad, the Wall Street Journal’s Seoul correspondent, caught up with Morten Traavik, the artist behind the performance that will soon open at Barents Spektakel, an international arts fest in Norway. He writes of Traavik’s long labour of love in making the project happen:
Over several years of visits, he persuaded North Korea’s culture officials to allow North Korean musicians and artists to visit the Barents festival. In return, some Norwegian performers will perform in North Korea in May.
When Mr. Traavik visited Pyongyang in December to meet the accordion ensemble at the Kum Song School, he took several examples of Norwegian music, including works by classical composer Edvard Grieg, for them to practice for their tour of Norway. He also took a CD by a-ha, the Norwegian pop group that had a global hit with “Take On Me” in 1985. The song turned popular in part because of its innovative video.
After giving the students the CD on a Monday night, they surprised him by playing their own improvised version of “Take On Me” on Wednesday morning. Mr. Traavik made a video of them and decided to post it on YouTube to promote the festival.
And just in case anyone doubts the youths’ passion for music, Traavik adds, “I think it’s quite evident from the video that you can’t accomplish that in such a time if you would suppose those young musicians actually hate what they’re doing.”