A North Korean band, dubbed as the "army of beauties", is set to travel to rival South Korea for the upcoming Winter Olympics in February.
Led by veteran troupe member, Hyon Song-wol, the art troupe is poised to showcase the world a softer side of the dictatorial Kim Jong-un regime, otherwise known for its ambitious nuclear and missile programme.
Hyon, who was part of a recent inter-Korea negotiation that eventually paved way for the participation of North Korean athletes, will lead a seven-member delegation scheduled to travel to the South on Saturday (20 January) to inspect the venue and make arrangements for the performances.
"The two sides are discussing the details needed for entry and exit," a senior South Korean government official told the Yonhap news agency. Comprising about 80 orchestra musicians and 60 members to sing and dance, the art troupe will make a rare performance featuring Western-style outfits and music.
"Samjiyon orchestra is not like the symphony orchestras that we know. It includes singing and dancing parts as well," Chong Chi-yong, artistic director of the Korean Symphony Orchestra and part of Seoul's negotiating team, told a local daily.
If conducted successfully, this will be the first such performance by North Koreans in the neighbouring nation since 2002. This will also be the largest art troupe travelling to South Korea beating all the past six occasions since 1985.
On Monday (15 January), the two rival Koreas — which are still technically at a state of war since their 1950-53 conflict did not end in a peace treaty — agreed over Pyongyang's involvement in the Olympics after months-long tensions.
Just like other entities, the art troupe — made up mostly of young women, remains a propaganda tool for Kim, who is suspected to be using the occasion to win the hearts of South Koreans amid tightening sanctions and a weakening economy.
"It seems certain that the North Korean authorities will fill the orchestra with players who can get the job done, refrain from defecting – not something the South Korean organisers of the games and related arts festivals would like to see either, presumably – and augment whatever 'soft power' reserves that the North has when dealing with South Korea," Adam Cathcart, a North Korean expert at the Leeds University, was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.
Still, there have also been questions why the better-known Moranbong Band, thought to be Kim's favourite, was not deployed to do the job.
Though the exact makeup of the Samjiyon band is not released by North Korean reports, it is thought to be heavily influenced by the all-female Moranbong band.