REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- It might be one of the strangest covers of a Western pop song from one of the unlikeliest places on the planet. And it's already a surprise Internet hit.
A recent posting on YouTube shows a group of five North Korean accordion players producing a rollicking rendition of the 1980s pop song "Take on Me" by the Norwegian group a–ha.
In isolated North Korea, where most citizens have never heard of Michael Jackson and where Western culture is seen as decadent filth, the 90-second video is innocent and even refreshing.
The five musicians, three men and two women, sit in a line facing the camera in a large wood-floored room, framed by a painting of a winter scene and a plastic four-foot-tall sunflower plant.
And when the students from Pyongyang’s Kum Song School of Music start to play, it even looks like they're having fun, swaying and grooving: rocking in the not-so-free world.
The performance was taped in December by visiting Norwegian artist Morten Traavik, who traveled to North Korea to look for musicians to play in an upcoming music festival.
According to one report, Traavik presented the students with a CD of the Euro-pop group. Two days later, the report said, the group surprised him with their improvised version of the song.
Traavik liked the song so much that he invited the troupe to play at the cultural festival in Norway. It's not clear whether the invitation was accepted.
Once home, Traavik posted the clip on YouTube on Feb. 1. Since then, it's received more than half a million hits and inspired more than 600 viewer comments. In the argumentative cyber world, where Internet users can argue about a parade, the general consensus was that the performance was pretty cool.
"Best wishes to these students. If they were my kids, I would be very proud of them," wrote one viewer. "Even [though] they are not my kids, I am still proud of them."
Added another: "Can anyone here just appreciate how epic this cover is without getting into a racial fight?"
-- John M. Glionna
Video credit: YouTube