x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Changing tunes

Bob Dylan's agreement to refrain from singing protest songs in China unfortunately coincides with a crackdown by authorities.

The times, we are constantly reminded, they are a-changing. And so it seems are the attitudes of the man who coined the phrase.

Three years ago, the Icelandic singer Bjork left Chinese authorities seething after she chanted "Tibet, Tibet" at the end of a concert in Shanghai. But on Wednesday in Beijing, Bob Dylan, a songwriter synonymous with 1960s activism and rebellion, played a set that was pre-approved by the country's authorities and shorn of almost all of his acclaimed protest songs.

As we reported yesterday, the first show in China of "Baobo Dilun", as he's known there, coincided with a major crackdown on dissent that has seen dozens of activists detained. Last year, Dylan cancelled a concert in China for censorship reasons. This time, he changed his tune.

Of course, the singer has long stopped being the voice of a generation, but his stance must still come as a bitter pill to swallow for his fans, especially in the same week that the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was arrested.

But the expatriate and mostly middle class Chinese audience did not seem to mind the dissonance. "He has songs the government could consider sensitive? Really?" asked one fan. "I just like the music." With another show scheduled in Shanghai today, we'll see if Dylan is content to just sing the chorus.