x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Artist Ai Weiwei turns rock star

The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has announced plans to release a heavy-metal album.

Ai Weiwei says that when he was detained in 2011,
Ai Weiwei says that when he was detained in 2011, "I thought: when I'm out, I'd like to do something related to music". Ed Jones / AFP

The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has announced plans to release a heavy-metal album that he said would "express his opinion" just as he does with his art.

Ai said 81 days in secretive detention in 2011, which sparked an international outcry, triggered his foray into music.

"When I was arrested, [the guards] would often ask me to sing songs but because I wasn't familiar with music, I was embarrassed," Ai, 55, said in an interview. "It helped me pass the time very easily.

"All I could sing was Chinese People's Liberation Army songs," Ai said. "After that I thought: when I'm out, I'd like to do something related to music."

A court in September upheld a US$2.4 million (Dh8.8m) fine against Ai for tax evasion, paving the way for jail if he does not pay. Ai maintains the charges were trumped up in retaliation for his criticism of the government.

Ai's debut album - Divina Commedia, after the poem by the Italian poet Dante - is a reference to the "Ai God" nickname in Chinese that his supporters call him by.

Two songs are about the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, whose escape from house arrest last April and subsequent refuge in the US Embassy embarrassed China and led to a diplomatic tussle.

One song on the album is called Hotel Americana, a dig at the US Embassy for sheltering Chen. Another is Climbing over the Wall, a reference to Chen's scaling of the walls in his village to escape and Chinese internet users circumventing the Great Firewall of China, a colloquial term for China's blocking of websites.

Ai said he was not worried about government persecution for his album, which will be out next month. He says he will distribute the album online "because music is also subject to review" in China.

Ai said he was working on a second album, with pop and rock influences.

"You know, I'm a person that's furthest away from music. I never sing," Ai said. "But you'll be surprised. You'll like it."

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