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K-pop artist heads North to plan concert

Delegation will be led by ’90s synth-pop crooner and producer
Mar 20,2018
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Lee Yoon-sang, Cho Yong-pil, Lee Sun-hee
Lee Yoon-sang, a singer-songwriter and record producer who rose to stardom in the 1990s for his synth-pop sound, will lead a group of South Korean interlocutors to North Korea today for working-level discussions on a concert in Pyongyang next month.

The Ministry of Unification, which handles relations with the North, said Lee was the first South Korean celebrity to be tapped as a delegate for an inter-Korean meeting. He is expected to be accompanied by two other senior government officials, each from the ministry and Blue House.

The meeting is scheduled to be held at Tongilgak, a North Korean-controlled building in the truce village of Panmunjom, which straddles the inter-Korean border. The North Korean negotiators will be led by Hyon Song-wol, leader of the Samjiyon Orchestra, which held two concerts in South Korea last month to mark the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

In a statement, the Unification Ministry explained that Lee, 49, was chosen to lead the discussions and direct the upcoming concert because he is well acquainted with K-pop from the 1970s to present day. Another factor: he is capable of putting together a show in a short amount of time, the ministry said.

Today’s working-level meeting is expected to hammer out the date, venue and lineup of the concert. Earlier this month, the South Korean government agreed to send artists to Pyongyang to perform ahead of an inter-Korean summit in late April.

The agreement on a concert was reached during a meeting between the five special envoys of President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The delegation was returning a visit made by the leader’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, to South Korea in February, where she delivered an invitation to Moon on behalf of her brother for an inter-Korean summit.

“The Pyongyang concert will probably be held in early April,” a South Korean government official said on the condition of anonymity Monday, adding that it would likely be a mix of old and contemporary K-pop.

“A lot of our artists performed in Pyongyang several times in the early 2000s,” another government official said. “The upcoming concert won’t be performed by just one person, so I’m thinking it’ll be a combination of K-pop, some old songs and traditional Korean music.”

Citing unnamed sources in the local music industry, South Korean media speculated the lineup to include legendary singers Cho Yong-pil and Lee Sun-hee, both of whom rose to the peak of their fame during the 1980s and ‘90s. Lee performed at a concert in Pyongyang in 2003, and Cho held a solo concert in the capital city two years later.

Both the agencies of YB, a five-member rock band also known as the Yoon Do-hyun Band, and Baek Z-young, a female solo artist, confirmed they were asked to join the concert, but didn’t say for sure whether they would.

A Blue House official said both Koreas would likely hold a high-level meeting at the end of this month to lay the groundwork for the summit and outline key agenda items.

If the countries do meet, there is a “high chance” that Seoul will be represented by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and Pyongyang will send his counterpart Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee of the Peaceful Reunification, a cabinet-level agency for handling inter-Korean relations in the North Korean government, the Blue House source said.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]