As the Moranbong Band is a military organization, it obviously has a hierarchical leadership structure. Until recently, practically all we knew about it was one sentence in the announcement that KCNA gave in 2012.07.07 after the first concert of the band: Kim Jong-un praised “Sonu Hyang Hui, leader of the band, for her splendid directing”.
She directed the band on stage, such as giving the mark when to start the next song. As we learned in spring 2013, she also has the highest military rank in the group, namely tewi (captain). Singer Kim Sol-mi has the second highest rank, namely sangwi (senior liutenant). Kim Yong-mi (first piano and then synthesizer) has the rank of jungwi (liutenant). All the other members are sowi, junior lieutenants. It is hard to say whether these ranks have any meaning in practice; at least one never sees any influence on the behavior of artists on stage.
This is as much as I have been able to find anything on the subject in any language written with Roman letters + understandable to me. In Korean, Chinese and Japanese there has been more information on the subject, and again I am indebted to Mizuno Naoki for giving several pieces of information to me. The most important news is that the actual leader of the Moranbong Band is 현송월 / 玄松月 / Hyon Song-wol.
When we talk about her, we understand the MB as a large organization, responsible for planning all types of activities, creating new productions, arranging the personnel and logistical questions, marketing, politicking with other NK actors, etc. There probably is also personnel for taking care of sound and lightning, clothing, dance trainers, technical engineers, car drivers, security personnel, and there probably also is someone who makes tea and runs errands. We do not know how large the whole organization actually is, but it certainly is much larger than the 11-12 musicians and 8 singers.
Presumably we can say that Sonu has been 악단장 / 楽団長 / band leader, and may still be, although we cannot be sure of her current status. It has not been defined for a while in NK media, and she was not treated as a leader during spring 2014, especially during the big 9th national meeting of artists in 2014.05.16-17, with related events continuing until 2014.05.20.
Hyon is instead 단장 / 団長 / company leader; probably since the beginning of the band in 2012.
Who is Hyon Song-wol? She is one of the most popular singers in the history of the North Korean musical scene, famous for her hits during the late 1990s and early 2000s, such as 장군님과해병들 将軍与水兵 General and sailors with Wangjesan LMB here.
Chinese Wikipedia appears to be the most reliable accessible source on her; the English, Spanish and Norwegian ones less so, in this order. She is said to have been born in 1972, which would make her 23 years old during the time of the video; the English Wiki gives her birth year as 1983, which would make her 12 years old in 1995. Not likely. All Wikipedia articles tend to be full of unnecessary rumours.
She is a graduate of Pyongyang University of Music and Dance.
Another well-known hit was 준마처녀 / A Girl in the Saddle of a Steed, here an early version with Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, and here a version with Unasu Orchestra, dating from the International Women’s Day in 2012.03.08. She was clearly pregnant at the time.
She has also several other songs in Youtube, found best when searched with all the different ways of writing her name.
Four months after the International Women’s Day concert Hyon again appears on a video. This is a news clip about MB’s first concert in 2012.07.07. She was among the audience, seated just behind KJU, and can be glimpsed on a few occasions, especially at 00:54, 08:48, 08:54, 09:16, and 09:56.
She appeared also at the end of the performance, when KJU gave his congratulations and guidance to people related with it.
It thus appears that Hyon was closely associated with the Moranbong Band from the beginning, not as a performer, but rather in a managerial post, and probably already at this time as the leader of the whole project. She knew the North Korean musical business thoroughly, and was a perfect expert in guiding the new group of young female musicians. I do not know what is the North Korean policy on maternity leaves, but she apparently was too important to stay at home for long. Nevertheless, these are only reasoned guesses; no confirmation anywhere. The bespectacled colonel standing beside her answered something to KJU, and was probably also somehow connected with the band.
Hyon’s status as the leader of Moranbong Band was confirmed in a news video about the national meeting of artists in 2014.05.17, where at 20:47 you can hear the announcer presenting her as “모란봉악단 단장 현송월 Moranbong Aktan tanjang Hyon Song-wol”. Rodong Sinmun also uses the same title. In the meeting she gave a presentation immediately after Kim Ki-nam, and sat at the stage with other art directors, in the front row. She had the military rank of taejwa (senior colonel), above which there are only the various ranks of generals. In the picture below she sits at the extreme left. Beside her there is an unknown gentleman, and beside him the empty chair of Kim Ki-nam while he was giving his opening address. Hyon thus sat at a fairly central place.
Right behind Hyon sits Ryu Jina, who already held the title of People’s Artist (인민예술가 / 人民芸術家). She gave a speech in the second day of the meeting, in 2014.05.17.
Beside Ryu sits 황진영 / Hwang Jin-yong, who in 2014 was the vice director of MB (모란봉악단 부단장).
His military rank is also taejwa. Rodong Sinmun had a page on him in 2014.04.13, on the occasion when he with two other MB leaders was awarded the title of Labor Hero (로력영응 / 労力英雄) in 2014.04.12. He already held the title of People’s Artist. Born in 1959, he graduated from the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance, with composition as his major. He worked as a musician at the National Symphony Orchestra, and has created music for instance for the Pochonbo Electonic Ensemble before joining the Moranbong Band. For instance Tangiyŏ yŏngwŏni kŭdewa hamge We’ll be forever with you, Party flag in the 2014.03.17 concert is his creation, as well as Urinŭn tangsinbagge morŭnda We will follow you only and Widehan kŭ irŭmŭn sŭngriye kichi His great name is a flag of victory. During 2015 his compositions became sparse in the concerts of the band, and he may no more be employed there.
Another leader is 우정희 / U Jong-hui, who also was nominated Labor Hero. Her earlier title is Merited Artiste (공훈예술가 / 功勲芸術家). She does not appear to be at the stage during the meeting, but Rodong Sinmun’s introduction is here. In 2014 she was introduced as the director of the Creative Section (창작실 실장 / 創作室室長) of MB (whatever it then meant; the whole ensemble is supposed to be creative). Born in 1954, and also a taejwa. After graduating from the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance, she created music for the Mansudae Art Group, Wangjesan LMO, and Pochonbo EE, before joining MB. For instance Inminŭn ilphyŏn dansim Single-minded people, played often during spring 2014, is her creation, as well as Kŭdenŭn ŏmŏni You are mother, Chosŏnye him Might of Korea, and Insengye yŏngkwang Glory of life. In spring 2016 U is still active with the band.
U’s vice director was in spring 2014 announced to be 안정호 An Jong-ho, with the same military rank, born in 1958. He is the third MB leader receiving the title of Labor Hero; being already a People’s Artist, and Rodong Sinmun’s page on him is here. It is curious that he was placed under U, because he has composed as many very famous songs as Hwang Jin-yong, and clearly more than U, who herself is a very heavy weight on her own right. It may only indicate that he was not as closely associated with MBB as U and Hwang. An studied in the same university as Wu and Hwang, and travelled through all the same orchestras as Wu. For instance another spring 2014 hit, Inminye hwanwe People’s joy was made by him, as well as Janakena wŏnsunim senggak We think of the marshal day and night and Uri ŏpŏi Our father. MBB performed many of his songs in practically all of its concerts during 2012-2014, but after 2014 his songs evaporated from the repertoire. I suspect that like Hwang, also An has been phased out of MBB.
Much of the creation and arrangement of Moranbong Band songs was in 2012-2015 in the hands of people, who started their musical careers well in the Kim Il-song era in the 1980s. New people have been brought in gradually as composers and lyricists, though it cannot be said that they would be better than Hwang, U and An.
Rodong Sinmun names still two additional vice directors for MB, without giving any special information on them. One of them is 김운룡 / Kim Un-ryong. He is the composer, who also arranges a lot of songs.
Another vice director mentioned by Rodong Sinmun is 장정애 / Jang Jonge. Very little is known about her. Her responsibility may be in guiding the singing practices of MB.
There appears to be also another leader for MB, namely Kim Jong-un. In a rather speculative Japanese blog Ookita Shoori reports how the band members have described KJU’s personal guidance, telling that it could take place in the middle of the night, at dawn, in Sundays and public holidays, in addition to ordinary week day guidance. KJU did not sleep until the programme for the next practicing session was ready, and if an idea for a new song was slow in coming, he was not able to eat properly. Rehearsals tend to take place every day, even during trips in out of the way places in mountains, and the Marshal watches closely also personal voice and instrument training of individual musicians, the training happening right in front of him. Ryu Jina once was forced to take a leave because of exhaustion. Whether this is true or not we do not know. My guess is that this could have been the situation in 2012, when MBB was Kim Jong-un’s new creation, but he has since been busy elsewhere, and deepening bureaucratic management has taken care of the band from 2013 onwards. This does not mean Hwang, U, An, Kim and the other true artists, but rather people at the higher levels of the party, who stay hidden. Something like this can be read from the changes in the style of the band. Yet, Kim Jong-un continuously seems to support MBB.
In 26 October 2015 after the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Korean Worker’s Party were over, various honours were bestowed on the State Merited Chorus and Moranbong Band. In a video from the event a few leading personnel can be spotted.
The ladies in the front row are Director Hyon Song-wol (left) and vice director/composer U Jong-hui (right). The gentleman in the middle could be 김운룡 Kim Un-ryong. That would be logical, as he is not only a vice director, but also two of his new compositions were performed in the 20151011 concert. He is seen also in the picture below. Kim is supposed to be somewhere in his 40s, which would also fit. The veteran composers Hwang and An were not present in the event.
The young gentlemen in the next row could be composers. For reasons I do not know, North Korean poets often appear in civilian dress, while composers in military one. The rule may not apply here, but I use it nevertheless, as I have nothing else. Thus they could have names like Sin Il-je 신일재 and Hyong Kyong-il 현경일, who both debuted as composers in this specific KWP birthday concert, or Sol The-song 설태성, who has written several songs for MBB in 2013-2014, and is thus supposed to be a little older. The civilian in the next row could be Ri Ji-song 리지성, who also made his debut in 2015, and altogether four songs with his lyrics were performed in this 20151011 concert.
With certainty we can see that beside him we have the fresh Merited Artiste, Captain Kim Yu-kyong, and beside her Captain Ri Hui-kyong. Behind them, if I am not mistaken, we have Jon He-ryon, Yu Un-jong and Choe Jong-im. Pictures from this event of the other MBB ladies are in the Band Members page.