A look at accordionists behind A-ha moment

Associated press

Published: Thursday, March 22 2012 11:02 p.m. MDT

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Five teenagers in school uniforms hold accordions. On the wall is a giant painting of the secret mountain hideout of their nation's founder, Kim Il Sung. Small red stickers on their instruments mark them as gifts from Kim Jong Il.

Yes, this is North Korea. But as they grind their accordions into song, what comes out is no somber ode to either of the late leaders. Instead, as more than 1.5 million YouTube viewers already know, it's one of the poppiest of 1980s pop songs, A-ha's "Take on Me."

The three young men and two women perform with gusto, swaying to the music, tapping their accordions and clapping their hands overhead. Their catchy cover, recorded in December, became a sensation as it challenged the world's preconceptions about North Koreans.

After taking their arrangement to Norway to perform at an Arctic arts festival, lead player Choe Hyang Hwa and fellow band members gave The Associated Press a peek into their lives at the Kumsong school in Pyongyang.

The "Take on Me" quintet happily took up their seats on white stools to re-enact their famous performance.

Lead accordionist Choe, a 17-year-old army officer's daughter from the border city of Kaesong, said the students study in the morning, and then practice the accordion in the afternoon.

Norwegian artist Morten Traavik, who recorded the video during a trip to the school, said the performance hints at how much outsiders don't know about North Koreans.

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