released May 15, 2015
All songs by Matthew J. O'Toole.
With additional production from Sid & Joan.
Featuring J.F. Hancell, Camille Harla and Luca Prete.
I was first seriously made aware of the political and social situation in the DPRK typically through documentaries and articles by western media outlets such as the BBC, Vice, RT etc. Soon after, I became fascinated in not just the post WW2 origins and subsequent modern history of DPRK but also the rich culture and the eventual development out of the initially formed, subordinate system in the shadow of Stalin, into a socialist society that I believe to be uniquely Korean.
Already having a cynicism and understanding of western media bias, led me to somewhat extensively research, through available means, to attempt to gain a better, more objective understanding of the DPRK and its culture and people. Through this I became very touched by the spirit of the not just the North Korean people but Koreans across the peninsula, a once advanced nation that through its history has been repeatedly divided in war due to interference from foreign forces. Despite this the Korean people both sides of the 38th parallel have retained a strength of character and will to overcome these unfortunate conditions, the division of family, national pride etc.
As a frustrated and unrecognised artist in my own country I was particularly touched by the North Koreans appreciation of creativity and the beauty of art. This is illustrated consistently throughout the writings and teachings of Kim Il-Sung and the philosophy of Juche, the formation of groups such as the Mansudae Art Studio and ultimately signified by the addition of the paintbrush alongside the hammer and sickle on the Workers Party Monument in Pyongyang. A sentiment that I think is genuinely beautiful.
Aside from a few small events, I am surprised that communication through the exchange of art has never been properly explored as a tool for peace between North Korea and the West. I think it’s essential that this is developed to further encourage peace.
I support the efforts of LINK and other human rights organizations and their attempts to improve the lives of unfortunate people in North Korea, but am disappointed to see their involvement in cheap tactics like sending balloons over the border carrying DVD’s of “The Interview”. I think forcing upon the North Korean people this type of inflammatory work, void of any artistic merit or integrity is obviously needlessly antagonistic, ultimately pointless and hurts the sincerity of these organizations…and most importantly risks putting innocent citizens in danger.
It’s indisputable that improving the living standard of the average person in the DPRK is much more important than the struggle for global political power by first world nations. It seems like on numerous occasions North Korea and the West have reached a genuine willingness to co-operate and make the initial steps towards peace which have been ruined by total stupidity. For example, Madeleine Albright’s progressive diplomatic meetings with Kim Jong-Il in 2000, which were almost immediately undone by George Bush and his declaration of the ‘Axis of Evil’. Clearly instances such as this represent a large portion of the West’s determination to disregard other socio-political situations throughout the world.
I think there needs to be a huge change in the approach to cultural relations and exchanges with the DPRK to come closer to achieving peace and a more secure global community. Harming the quality of life for innocent people with sanctions and installing paranoia and mistrust in the DPRK’s perception of the west has clearly been massively ineffective.
So this led me to want to make a fully formed work of art that looked at North Korea more intimately and more objectively celebrated aspects of its culture, from a western perspective. I think with my album “The Tigers Of Mount Paektu” I have achieved this.
Musically the album was specifically born out of my love for the Ponchonbo Electronic Ensemble and a want to embrace and align the music of the DPRK with contemporary trends of electronic and pop music in the west. Lyrically I spent along time crafting the songs to represent some ideologies of Juche that I have found to be beneficial in my own life, self reliance, determination, hard work etc, whilst also taking influence from a light side of the stories, history and places in the DPRK, to even the translated Korean turn of phrase to provide a dialect for the structuring of the words themselves.
I hope if any of you listen to it my hard work and sincerity will be apparent, ideally this work could be used as a small initial step towards the foundation of more open cultural awareness and exchanges with the DPRK which I believe to be essential for the progression towards the securing of stability and peace.