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Report Substantiates North Korea Musical Instrument Concerns

By Mandolin Cafe
April 1, 2015 - 8:00 am

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Department of Commerce - International Trade Administration

Department of Commerce - International Trade Administration

PYONGYANG North Korea — The U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, confirms suspicions the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has engaged in a systematic program involving the hoarding of U.S. and European musical instruments over the past 15 months.

In a phone interview with Department of Commerce spokesman Robert Miller he told us, "we began to notice an unusual amount of stringed instrument export activity — banjos initially, and mandolins are following suit — headed west on international flights out of airports like Seattle, L.A., Portland and San Francisco starting around mid-2014.

"GPS devices planted in cases designed to track a select set of instruments confirmed our suspicion these were funneled into North Korea," he said.

"At first glance this appeared to be a program of retail terrorism — hoarding valued instruments with the intent to increase their price for possible resale — but inside sources tell us they are being redistributed to North Korean citizens to offset their displeasure at having to pretend to respect and fawn over supreme leader Kim Jong-un during his public appearances," said Miller (see video example).

"Reports we're receiving so far seem to indicate this is working as intended. North Korean citizens are much happier as a result," he said.

Photo text translation

North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un (show below) is said to be behind the program as a way to strengthen support for his weakened leadership. The text in the image shown here translates roughly to "a ukulele in every house," a mistaken reference to banjos and mandolins commonly made by non-musicians.

Translation: a ukulele in every house

Although banjos have disappeared from retail at an alarming rate, mandolins are beginning to follow suit.

A spokesman for a major banjo manufacturer who requested anonymity told us, "champagne corks were popping around the plant when record sales started coming in, but that joy quickly turned to the realization this is a very troubling trend with no end in sight.

"We can no longer satisfy our main market and it's likely we'll never hear music from our own instruments again," he said.

"Calls are coming in daily from musicians that can no longer obtain our products in retail. It's a sad day for our industry."

The photo shown here was originally intended for North Korean newspapers only but is now being distributed to select news outlets.

"This is all very troubling," said Stan Werbin of Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Mich. "We may be forced to shut down the mandolin and banjo areas of our web site. Old-time and bluegrass music will soon be played on tambourines and spoons. I don't think that's going to sound very good," he said.

Department of Justice officials contacted for this story did not respond to our questioning.

Additional information

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Reader Comments

spufman
April 01, 2015 08:08 AM
dy where y = r cubed over 3.
JPerkins
April 01, 2015 08:15 AM
This is very depressing news. I intended to sign up for the Arristworks banjo track but I think I'll opt for spoons instead.
chasray
April 01, 2015 08:16 AM
I can hear it now....Blue Moon Over Pyongyang.
Rush Burkhardt
April 01, 2015 08:16 AM
1st Golf, and now acoustic music! Will it never end? Gasp!
:popcorn:
billkilpatrick
April 01, 2015 08:27 AM
kim wrong-un strikes again ... MAS attack!
swampstomper
April 01, 2015 08:28 AM
Speaking of golf (the famous 36 under par on first attempt), you neglected to say that the first time the Dear Leader took a mandolin out of the case he played all Bach's Partitas from memory using stretches and double stops that even Mike Marshall can not attempt.
David Smith
April 01, 2015 08:43 AM
Grisman renames EMD to DMZ.
Ed Goist
April 01, 2015 08:46 AM
I hope the UN gets involved in this.
I'm pretty sure banjos fall under the international WMD prohibition.
M.Marmot
April 01, 2015 08:55 AM
'Old-time and bluegrass music will soon be played on tambourines and spoons.'

Tamborines and spoons! In bluegrass!!

For some folks that'd constitute a scenario even more nefarious than a North Korean inspired drought of instruments.
Ole Joe Clark
April 01, 2015 08:57 AM
This is scary, perish the thought of Uncle Pen played on tambourines and spoons.
A well written article, alerting the world to the dubious misdeeds of ole un. If this news article had not been published, at great danger I might add, many a mandolin player would suffer from MAS in vain.
Stay safe and protect your valuable instruments, if they disappear I'm sure the UN will chastise un and ask him to please stop.
goose 2
April 01, 2015 09:01 AM
I predict that the continued practice of increasing the density of banjos in the relatively small country of Noth Korea will ultimately lead to that nations demise.
wildpikr
April 01, 2015 09:10 AM
Quote from billkilpatrick: kim wrong-un strikes again ... MAS attack! End Quote

Good one!smile)
M.Marmot
April 01, 2015 09:11 AM
It's great that the cafe has now rescinded it's rules against bringing up 'hot-button topics' and is leading the way by posting this exceptional exposé.
wildpikr
April 01, 2015 09:18 AM
Quote from M.Marmot: 'Old-time and bluegrass music will soon be played on tambourines and spoons.'

Tamborines and spoons! In bluegrass!!

For some folks that'd constitute a scenario even more nefarious than a North Korean inspired drought of instruments. End Quote


And don't forget jaw harps and triangles...the technique, tips and tricks to improvisation videos...how to play faster...the search for vintage , uh, instruments...the gut-wrenching possibilities are endless...bwaahahahaaaa!~:>
Steve Ostrander
April 01, 2015 09:27 AM
North Korea is hoarding banjos, and people are alarmed? We should be applauding!!;)
journeybear
April 01, 2015 09:35 AM
This is not a hoax. I got an email the other day - mixed in with the notices of lottery winnings and pleas for help from Nigerian princes - offering me $1.75 million for my mandolin in order to help out with a program dedicated to enriching the cultural education of North Korean school children. All they asked in return was to help defray shipping and handling costs by sending $650. This seemed an honorable cause, and, since my prime directive is furthering mandolin consciousness, it behooved me to spring into action. I sent them my beater.
dj coffey
April 01, 2015 10:26 AM
I don't know...I smell an April Fools Joke.
Ed Rosney
April 01, 2015 10:55 AM
The article omitted that fact that, as a result of this development, North Korea is changing the country's official name from Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to Guitars Don't Always Electrify (GDAE).
mandobutter
April 01, 2015 10:59 AM
Man you got me good!
As crazy as it sounds a banjo and mandolin in the hands of all North Koreans could actually bring about peace and free thought and expression.That would be the end of the North Korean regime. I say lets make it happen,but with cheap imports only. I will take a North Korea full of banjos and mandolins:mandosmiley over bombs any day.smile
farmerjones
April 01, 2015 11:04 AM
THANK YOU ! ! !! ! ! !

I waited and waited for the annual unveiling. WooHOO!!!!!

Wow! Someting tells me that's Stan's er' uh, cave.

You want banjo?
How 'bout, Dennis Rodman playing this pre-war top tension! ! ! ! !

Do you suppose a sniffer dog would survive that room, or would that be animal cruelty?
mtm
April 01, 2015 11:28 AM
it was hook, line, and sinker for me ... until DJs post and then... dang, they GOT ME !!!
Mark Wilson
April 01, 2015 11:55 AM
TBH, I was way deep into it before it hit me.

You guys could write for the Onion!
NursingDaBlues
April 01, 2015 12:02 PM
Fell for it...HL&S.
David L
April 01, 2015 01:01 PM
So now it will be patriotic to buy more instruments! What better excuse do you need?
stringdoggy
April 01, 2015 01:06 PM
supreme leader knows not what he has unleashed. First mandolins, then banjos. With that much joy, the old regime can't stand long.
billkilpatrick
April 01, 2015 01:07 PM
8:o'clock here in italy - 4 more hours to go to april 2 ...
Larry Simonson
April 01, 2015 01:31 PM
Very clever! I have witnessed several of your 1st of April "News" items so this one didn't fool me like I am used to. Now, I can't wait till next year to see what you come up with top this.

Above spufman "wrote "dy where y = r cubed over 3." Did you mean 'u' instead of 'y' ?
JEStanek
April 01, 2015 01:33 PM
If Dennis Rodman hadn't brought that Loar Mandolin with him last year, none of this would have happened. Sad day for us. Good day for accordion manufacturers.

Jamie
MysTiK PiKn
April 01, 2015 03:39 PM
Such an interesting event. Can you see the world where competition for infinite joy is the purpose of all policies, laws, activities, foreign policies? If so, tell me how politicians represent our genuine needs and interests. And what truths do we truthfully believe? The pursuit of love, peace, and happiness - what's money got to do with all that? And who can own it? And what if there had been a war where nobody showed up cos we all went to a bluegrass festival, complete with 'parking lot jam', instead - following our genuine creative interests. Such utter savagery. I gotta go pikn, see if I can get to the bottom of this. Mandos save the world - ooohhhhmmmm - meditating - ooohhhhmmmmm. Oh, that in "G" btw. smile Compulsory mandolin lessons; whenever you feel like it.

It seems we took a wrong turn somewhere.
aircooled
April 01, 2015 03:49 PM
I remember a similar, panicky response about 30 years ago when Japan was on the rise as a global economic power. Japanese buyers were spotted at American guitar shows with lists of desired instruments and were paying top dollar. Like any other commodity, these instruments will resurface when the market dictates they should, as happened with Japan's stash when the economy soured.

BTW, has anyone else noticed how easy it would have been to Photoshop Dear Leader into this image? Happy April 1!
billkilpatrick
April 01, 2015 04:32 PM
another half hour to go here in italy and then all this 1/4 stuff will seem like a bad dream ...
Jeff Hildreth
April 01, 2015 05:05 PM
Bad photoshop job.

The shadows are incorrect.

Fun otherwise.
cvn65pc1@gmail.com
April 01, 2015 07:11 PM
We will see what headlines read on the 2nd good one.
Steve Erbe
April 01, 2015 08:48 PM
There is an ulterior motive. Any country he threatens to attack with missiles full of Banjos is sure to Kowtow to him.
Con Dowd
April 01, 2015 08:50 PM
I've been expeimenting with mando / banjo builds made from depleted uranium. They are durable, impervious to temperature and humidity extremes. And... they stay in tune. The only problem I'm having with the manufacturing process is disposal of scrap. I can get several dozen mandos or one banjo from the depleted uranium loged in just one Iraqui- Imperial Guard surplus tank. If you could inform the Royal, Imperial, Eternal, his majesty, Kim Jong-un of this "WIN-WIN" opportunity, we all benefit. Offer includes...smile The instruments, left over scrap, rolls of aluminum foil (for the hats), and a "D U mandolin?" T-shirt 2x... asking Three Quarters of a Billion USD... firm. Buyer assumes shipping. PayPal only.

Thanks...
John McCoy
April 01, 2015 09:18 PM
smile) smile) smile)
dobrojay
April 01, 2015 10:55 PM
Not a good idea should they be top notch USA built instruments of vintage nature.
instruments built in the last 40 years will never reach vintage stature so they will not be sorely missed. these may take care of the supply and demand.. dobrojay
Ron McMillan
April 01, 2015 11:25 PM
As if anyone cares, the Korean script in the background of the photograph reads 'Cham Kay Ramyun' - from an instant noodle packet.
journeybear
April 02, 2015 10:25 AM
Oh, some of us care, all right. Just maybe not all that much. ;) Still, it's good to see an effort was made to include actual Korean characters. So to speak. whistling
Jim Garber
January 04, 2018 01:15 PM
I was just watching a video on the New Yorker site about KJU and North Korea and they flashed on this photo. Pretty strange...

And this is not an April Fool's photo.
JL277z
January 04, 2018 07:43 PM
Quote from Jim Garber: I was just watching a video on the New Yorker site about KJU and North Korea and they flashed on this photo. Pretty strange...

And this is not an April Fool's photo. End Quote
[QUOTE] End Quote


Mentioned in a different thread last year too. smile At that time, I speculated that based on the shape of the peghead and tuners, it might be some sort of indigenous instrument as in this video - fast forward to 3:12, also solo at 3:35:

[video=youtube;IPDc6Ieed7o]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPDc6Ieed7o[/video]
(or direct link)

Nice music, but I don't understand the facial expressions. Is that look of agony a normal feature of classical music? (Just asking, I have no idea.) I suppose I'd appear in agony too if I had to play while sitting there wearing a tight skirt *and* singing at the same time. whistling
Jeff Hildreth
January 04, 2018 09:12 PM
Look behind you, there is an accordion breathing down their necks.
JL277z
January 05, 2018 02:11 AM
Quote from Jeff Hildreth: Look behind you, there is an accordion breathing down their necks. End Quote

Lol yeah that too! smile)
Bertram Henze
January 05, 2018 06:27 AM
Quote from JL277z: Is that look of agony a normal feature of classical music? End Quote

200mg of MiraLax each would explain the faces and the moves.

Or... it's a feature of drama, connected with a plot that involves a helicopter on a mountain. Now which choice seems to make more sense?
Jim Garber
January 05, 2018 07:41 AM
It is called an oungum and was invented by Kim Jong-Il when he was in college in the 1960s to be the North Korean national instrument. It is related to the Bipa, a Korean instrument like the Chinese pipa or the Japanese biwa.

Here's a polka-like tune we could all learn on Mandolin smile

[video=youtube_share;Se-kN2qao6c]https://youtu.be/Se-kN2qao6c[/video]
JL277z
January 05, 2018 10:36 PM
Quote from Bertram Henze: 200mg of MiraLax each would explain the faces and the moves.

Or... it's a feature of drama, connected with a plot that involves a helicopter on a mountain. Now which choice seems to make more sense? End Quote

Lol. smile) I'm not up-to-date on popular entertainment though, is the plot you mention one of those all-purpose alien-invader sasquatch mummy UFO mob-conspiracy world-takeover creature-from-the-deep illuminati shape-shifting government-conspiracy shows? ;) (trying to cover all the bases there) smile) smile smile
JL277z
January 05, 2018 10:38 PM
Quote from Jim Garber: It is called an oungum and was invented by Kim Jong-Il when he was in college in the 1960s to be the North Korean national instrument. It is related to the Bipa, a Korean instrument like the Chinese pipa or the Japanese biwa. End Quote

Thanks for the info! smile

Quote from Jim Garber: Here's a polka-like tune we could all learn on Mandolin smile

[video=youtube_share;Se-kN2qao6c]https://youtu.be/Se-kN2qao6c[/video] End Quote

Most of the kids are playing so high up the neck, seems like it'd make more sense to just have a shorter-scale instrument, but heck what do I know. Anyway, the music reminds me of something... can't quite place what yet... I keep thinking of 1960s American TV (maybe a commercial/ad? or a show?) but maybe it's something else. Talented kids, in any case.
Bertram Henze
January 05, 2018 10:45 PM
JL, I don't know the details, but the helicopter is seen behind the orchestra, and I guess it's a variation of hero soldier flying over the enemy's lines on a shell he's tied himself to and punching their general in the face, causing their troops to run in terror...
JL277z
January 06, 2018 08:22 AM
Quote from Bertram Henze: .... the helicopter is seen behind the orchestra, ... End Quote

Good eye! I hadn't even noticed that.

Ordinarily I'm pretty good at seeing background stuff, sometimes more than the foreground, but that video had so much bizarre detail going on in the foreground that I never even noticed the helicopter.
Jim Garber
January 06, 2018 08:29 AM
Music reminds me of Lawrence Welk Show.
JL277z
January 06, 2018 08:45 AM
Quote from Jim Garber: Music reminds me of Lawrence Welk Show. End Quote

Ah yes that's the one... I knew it reminded me of something 1960s but I couldn't quite place it. Thanks! smile
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