by Gloria Guns
When my maternal grandmother was eighteen years old, she left her home in what is now North Korea to head south so she could study nursing. It was while studying there that the country split into North and South Korea, leaving her family trapped on the other side of the border. To this day, she has never been back to her birthplace and has not heard from her family ever since.
Listen to the song while reading the text.
Her Hope is Contagious
If you ever met her, you wouldn’t ever suspect that she had experienced such tragedies in her life. My grandmother is a strong, hard-working and resilient woman and so she built her successful career in nursing and eventually started her own new family with my grandfather, including my mother, my aunt, and my uncle, who all eventually left South Korea to move to Canada, where I was born.
Despite her experiences, she isn’t a bitter person. Instead, guided by her spiritual faith, she always focuses on hope – which I have always found to be inspiring. My grandmother is now in her nineties and still hangs on to the hope that one day our families can be reunited. Her hope is contagious, as I’ve often found myself wondering about the relatives I have never heard from on the other side of the border.
A Glimpse Into Other People’s World
I wrote the lyrics and music for my song Pyongyang over ten years ago because it was important to share my family’s history, a story that is unfortunately quite common for many Korean people whose families were split across the political lines of the demilitarized zone. I think it’s important that music reflects a rich diversity of perspectives and experiences.
I very rarely write songs about love, not because it’s not important, but because I believe there is so much more that we experience in life than just falling in and out of love, especially as we get older. Music should provide a glimpse into other people’s worlds while highlighting the common emotions that underly these vastly different life situations.
But I didn’t want this song to be a sad one. Like my grandmother, it had to be full of hope that things will get better. I made it a dance track, with energetic synths, fast beats, choir-like layers of multiple vocal harmonies and lyric references to celebration:
“If we ever get to go back home
I’m gonna drop everything
I’m gonna run to the streets and dance
I’m gonna cry and shout and sing.”
Some Things Take Time
Although we only recently recorded the studio version of Pyongyang, we’ve been performing the song live over the past decade and have continuously developed it, adding new parts and layers to it, so that by the time it made it to the Quyon church studio, we were dealing with hundreds of tracks. And consistent with the No Pop mentality, we didn’t care whether it was going to be radio-friendly or not at 6 minutes. The main thing was to express ourselves completely and to take up the space and time needed to do it, without focusing on making a pop tune easily digestible for mass consumption – although I do think it’s still quite catchy.
We also took a similar approach to film the music video. We wanted a positive focus, so we brought in our colleague Grant Harding, an experienced puppetry artist in Ottawa, so we could have fun scenes of puppets dancing joyfully in the video. After all, who doesn’t crack a smile at puppets?
We’re happy to finally share this song with the rest of the world. We’ve taken our time – ten years, in fact – to create this song, but we know that some things take a long time. After all, my grandmother has been dreaming about seeing her family again since she was eighteen years old.