19 December 2011
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Picture Book: Porcelain Raft

Mauro Remiddi on his part in North Korean propaganda machine, and other stories

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April 1992: I was living in Italy at that time, I had my band and we were invited to join The Spring Festival in North Korea, to play our songs but also re-arrange traditional North Korean folk songs in a more ‘modern’ way. Little did I know at that time what was going on there. North Korea wasn’t on the news as often as now, in my head that would have been just a trip to the far east, gigs in big theatres, a really well-paid holiday. Oh, how I was wrong.

Our passports disappeared in Moscow, on the plane to North Korea my ticket had another name. Once there, we were kindly forced to do propaganda press shots: this here is the only photo we were allowed to bring back. From left, the second one on the sixth row is me. The man in the middle of the photo is (former North Korean president and Kim Jong-il’s predecessor) Kim Il-sung. I could write a book about this trip, I think I will at some point.

I remember asking the translator if he knew who Elvis was. He said, ‘Is he that guy from Germany?’. We were not allowed to move on stage, people at that time had never seen a man with an electric guitar moving on stage before. Our performances, and other country’s performances (we were representing Italy, of course) were broadcast on the national television. That was the only time North Koreans could see a western face.

In their TV movies North Koreans fighting Americans (both sides interpreted by North Korean actors) were broadcast every day. One thing I will never forget: the translator kept asking me for chewing gum, one every 15 minutes. I knew gum was not sold there and thought that’s why he liked it so much. After the 36th chewing gum I followed him, just to see what was going on — he couldn’t possibly chew so much in one day. From afar I saw him on the theatre’s stairs, chatting with a woman. He smiled at her and offered a chewing gum. She smiled back.

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