Kang Chun-hyok, a 29-year-old North Korean defector and hip hop artist now living in South Korea, wants to release his first album in December and become the first internationally recognized hip hop artist of his native country.
Kang was born in North Korea’s Onsung County, North Hamkyung Province. In an interview with the Indonesian radio network KBR, he recalled listening to the Pochonbo expand=1] Electronic Ensemble, a propaganda orchestra that glorifies the regime and takes its name from a 1937 battle against Japanese occupation led by Kim Il-sung, North Korea's founding leader and grandfather of current dictator Kim Jung-un.
Growing up on the street during the deadly famine in North Korea in the 1990s, his childhood was one of intense suffering. “I was starving when I was a kid, I had to steal food. Yeah, I’m angry about that. Why did I have to live like that?,” he says.
Kang says he ate tree bark and drank out of puddles while the ruling Kim family drank expensive and imported booze.
The hip hop artist escaped from his home when he was 13, arriving in South Korea in 2001, where he is now an art major at Seoul’s Hongik University.
With his politically charged lyrics, his goal is to raise awareness among South Koreans about what is happening north of the Demilitarized Zone. “I know people here have lived under tough times too, but it’s hard to compare to how North Koreans live. South Koreans write love songs and about breaking up. But I’m writing lyrics about human rights,” he explains to KBR.
Besides rapping, Kang is also an artist. Inspired by his same tragic memories, he draws scenes of daily life in North Korea. Roland Chi from the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, a refugee support group in Seoul, says that when Kang first arrived, he had a knack for drawing.
Back in North Korea, the rapper couldn’t express himself in any form of art whatsoever. “They’ve been brainwashed, any sort of artistic compunction they have has been stamped out, unless it’s directed at glorifying the state of North Korea,” Chi says.
Kang now wants his life to revolve around his music. So far, he’s written four songs, destined for the album he hopes to release before the end of the year. He is also getting help from the Korean-American producer Woody Pak, who says he was “struck by the way his words are reflecting what he’s probably too shy to say in a normal conversation.”
In July, Kang Chun-hyok appeared on the South Korean television music contest “Show Me the Money”, where he left a strong impression on the audience as well as on the judges. One of them, The Quiett , a South Korean rapper, said he hopes Kang will be able to educate young South Koreans about the situation in the North: “There are many things we don’t know, and he can tell it. It’s important,” he said.
You can watch Kang Chun-hyok’s performance on “Show Me the Money” below. He was eliminated later in the contest after forgetting his lyrics due to stage fright.
“Companions, listen up,
My name is Kang Hyok, I’m from Onsung County, Hamkyung Province
Ri Sol-ju is that country’s mother, but she’s not my mother
What my mother got from Hamkyung Province was tuberculosis
Exploitation of money from digging tunnels, making nuclear weapons
Lose that fat on your belly, I’m not afraid of public execution
That’s why I’m here at a public audition
Give me that dirty money, show me the money.”
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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