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North Korea: 'stealth gospel' campaign subverts state propaganda

North Koreans used to hearing endless propaganda music with adoring references to the ruling Kim dynasty, are being exposed to very similar songs full of gospel references, reports The Guardian …

North Koreans used to hearing endless propaganda music with adoring references to the ruling Kim dynasty, are being exposed to very similar songs full of gospel references, reports The Guardian

The No Chain “stealth gospel” campaign is a project dreamed up by former North Korean political prisoner Jung Gwang-il, who spent three years in a prison camp in the early 2000s.

Jung has recorded 32 new songs almost identical to the ones played on state-run radio, but with a significant difference.

“It sounds exactly the same as what you would hear in North Korea, the same accompaniment, the same type of voice, but the names have all been changed,” Jung said.

“[The customs officials] aren’t going to sit there and listen to each song, because the music sounds the same to what they’re used to hearing,” he explained.

No Chain uses its network of smugglers along the China-DPRK border to distribute the music, which is secretly loaded on USB sticks and SD cards. They do so at great risk: the penalty if they’re caught is public execution.

Jung, who presented the project at the Oslo Freedom Forum recently, stressed that his aim was not to proselytise. Instead, he said he was using religion as a way to expose North Korea’s isolated citizens to alternative ways of thinking.

“In the DPRK there is no concept of love that isn’t about loyalty and love for the regime and the ‘dear leader’. We’ve done this to show that outside, people believe in whatever they want,” he said.

Jung hired a music studio, a producer, and enlisted the help of a defector who used to work as a singer in Pyongyang. “We took great pains to reproduce the exact sound – the singing, the intonation, the methods,” Jung said.

But it’s also about bringing a bit of cheer. Testing the songs on fellow defectors in the US, Jung says: “They hear the words and they’re like, ‘what the hell?’, chuckling and laughing. They’re so surprised.”

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