Smells Like Kim Spirit

Jumpin’ Jong-il Flash, is a gas, gas, gas?

North Korea is not known for its rock and roll but they do have accordions... Well, maybe. If a Korean-French national who makes his home in London and swears allegiance to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has his way, Pyongyang is gonna flat rock, this May, dude.

Jean-Baptiste Kim, a self-described “man with three fatherlands” is behind “Rock for Peace”, which scheduled for May 1-4 in the capital city of Kim Jong-il’s socialist paradise. Sketchy, enthusiastic and slightly skewed English details are available on his Voice of Korea website for what he is calling “the 2007 version of Woodstock rock festival in 1969 but in a different location and with a different goal. We welcome every musician as long as they are purely music based without political intentions. ”

Though the gig is open to any band “even if you are from USA”, they have to have the requisite visas, stamina and money to fly themselves and their gear to Pyongyang. There are also additional caveats not quite in the Woodstock, or even modern goth, punk or death-metal rock spirit.

“The lyrics should not contain admirations on war, sex, violence, murder, drug, rape, non-governmental society, imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-DPRK and anti-socialism.”

That pretty much rules out everybody save Barry Manilow, Celine Dion, Canto-pop cutie pies or anyone from American Idol. And this from a man who swears allegiance to Led Zeppelin as well as the DPRK, whose first album purchase was by Lynrd Skynrd and who says the Animals' version of House of the Rising Sun is his all-time favorite song.

...and singing soldiers There's also a photo of Nirvana fronting the Voice of Korea site that reads "Unfortunately Kurt Cobain Can Not Participate Rock For Peace This Time. But We Still Do Remember All Good Songs of Nirvana From Aberdeen, USA." (I am sure Kurt would have loved to have been there, if not for that untimely suicide.)

“Rock and roll symbolizes freedom for me. Even though USA was the incubator of rock music, I still love rock music because I believe frontiers must not exist among us when we enjoy music. Music is the greatest tool to unify all different people from all different places,” Kim said in an e-mail interview from Voice of Korea headquarters in New Malden, a south London suburb that one western blog, North Korea Zone, describes as “home to thousands of (South) Koreans living in Britain.”

Kim, a 40-year-old father of three and former correspondent for North Korea’s largest newspaper, Rodong, said 62 bands from 20 countries have signed on so far, but aside from one Norwegian death metal band, he’s reluctant to provide any details just yet.

“Too many bands from all over the world. I will release full list of participants soon on the web site,” he wrote.

He’s confident that Pyongyang – which has hosted grand spectacles like the annual Arirang Mass Games, tae kwon do tournaments, and the International Pyongyang Film Festival – will have no problem with a rock fest and the attendant messy details – plentiful port-a-potties, lodging, a big kick-ass sound and light system, and, presumably, back stage passes for hangers on and lots of Jack Daniels in the green room.

“DPRK is well experienced for large international events,” Kim wrote. “We do have comfortable hotels and reasonable transports everywhere in Pyongyang, though they are not so luxury compared to Las Vegas 5-star hotels. Sound engineering, lighting and filming will be take cared by Voice of Korea’s (unnamed) official partner, a Canadian company based in Toronto.”

But there this sobering disclaimer for any bands expecting star treatment, groupies and limitless perks: “Every band is responsible for their own trips to and from and staying in DPRK...DPRK will provide free transport for their music instruments only.”

How Kim chose to become the Bill Graham of North Korea is a little unclear. His background is a bit vague and as seemingly improbable as his plans to rock the DMZ. But as he tells it, it is all about his devotion to North Korea.

A Korean-French national born in South Korea, he claimed that his father was a member of a movement in the 1960s and ‘70s devoted to the overthrow of then-dictator Park Chung Hee, who was assassinated in 1979. “My father was imprisoned many times and myself and my older sister were born when he was in prison,” Kim wrote. “My family suffered miserable poverty because my father was a political criminal. Our lives in South Korea were totally ruined by the government.”

He said he “fled” to France at age 19 following the death of his father. “When your father is a criminal you cannot expect a life of your own in South Korea. I survived all alone in France and did many hard, dirty jobs including military training as a soldier of fortune.”

Kim said a chance meeting with a North Korean diplomat at age 30 led to a change of direction and a succession of jobs for Pyongyang including his gig with Rodong and “lots of behind stories and military trades before it was not under UN sanctions ... I am abandoned by South Korean government because I work for DPRK. My life is a lot more complicated than what most people imagine and there are many things I can not speak out until my death.” He misses South Korea and considers France his home and ultimate burial site but, “DPRK is my fatherland in blood.”

While he shills like a veteran party member for Pyongyang, Kim isn’t completely clueless regarding the cultural differences his project entails should he ultimately kick out the jams. He knows it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll, especially DPRK-style.

“Rock for Peace is a great cultural experiment for DPRK,” he wrote. “Rock music and DPRK may be two very different things but I am very confident I can create a DPRK kind of rock atmosphere rather than just follow Western kind of rock moods. It is not a contradiction but a harmonization of two different atmospheres.

Hail, hail Great Leader rock ‘n’ roll.

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