U.S.-based Christian bands Casting Crowns and the Annie Moses Band received awards for their performances last week at the April Springs Arts Festival in North Korea.
Casting Crowns, whose participation last week marked the Grammy-winning band's second appearance, was awarded a gold trophy for their popular hit "Lifesong," according to the organization that facilitated their first appearance back in 2007.
Global Resource Service (GRS) also reported Tuesday that the Annie Moses Band won an award for their song "Glory Giver," one of three songs that the classical-fusion ensemble performed during the April 10-18 event.
The Annie Moses Band "made a positive impression on the North Korean People," stated the vice chairman of the event's organizing committee, according to GRS.
The Atlanta-based humanitarian NGO, which has worked in North Korea since 1997, reported that 650 performers from 24 countries participated in the international event, held in arguably the most reclusive country in the world. The festival supposedly promotes independence, peace and friendship through cultural and artistic exchange – though critics suspect otherwise.
Notably, the North Korean government is known for having arguably the worst human rights record in the world. The majority of people there are reportedly cut off and isolated from the rest of the world, dependent on the totalitarian regime for their needs.
Furthermore, of the country's more than 23 million people, about 9 million are in need of urgent food assistance, according to the World Food Program.
While the participation of two Christian American bands in the festival – which was held amid a weeklong celebration in honor of the country's founder and current dictator – raised eyebrows among those familiar with North Korea's infamous reputation, some were encouraged.
Steve Clemons, the foreign policy programs director for the New America Foundation, told liberal political commentator Rachel Maddow on her show recently that he believes "at one level, lots of engagement is very good."
"We saw a lot of the better side of this when the New York philharmonic went to North Korea, which has had a lot of very positive residual effects that I think have continued to echo both in North and South Korea and also back in the States," he said.
GRS CEO Robert E Springs, Jr., similarly said he "heartily encourage[s] this type of goodwill exchange."
"I have been an eye-witness observer of the dramatic changes that have taken place inside North Korea over the last twelve years," said Springs, whose organization began as a way to advance the efforts of various private sector humanitarian organizations in an effort to facilitate a unified response to North Korea's complex natural disasters.
"If we know anything from history, it is this: music can inspire thoughts and open minds far beyond the constricted political boundaries that citizens in many countries must face," Springs continued. "People to people exchanges and working together to find real solutions are the keys to normalized relations. Any other motive only inhibits the advancement of increased openness. This GRS delegation was very successful and a part of our on-going programs in the spirit of goodwill and cultural exchange. "
In addition to participation in the festival activities, both bands were selected to record their Korean language rendition of the songs "White Dove" and "Forever In My Heart" at the Central Broadcasting System, the "Chosun Sori" (Voice of Korea).
In the 27-year history of the annual festival, only six U.S. delegations have participated, according to GRS. The organization coordinated three of the six groups and has been the primary U.S. coordinator for the last two festivals.