Ai Weiwei releasing heavy metal album

The dissident artist has written the lyrics and sings on the nine-track record

Published March 11, 2013 1:05PM (EDT)

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, currently the most influential artist in the world, is branching out into music. The artist this morning announced plans to debut his first album, which will consist of nine tracks ranging from heavy metal, punk and pop-influenced tracks.

The project was borne out of Ai's highly publicized 81-day-long detention in 2011. "When I was arrested, they (his guards) would often ask me to sing songs, but because I wasn't familiar with music, I was embarrassed," the artist told Reuters via telephone. "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."

Ai's album, "Divina Commedia," named after Dante's poem, is also a an allusion to his Chinese nickname, "Ai God" (As Reuters explains, "God" in Chinese is "Shen", while "Divina Commedia" in Chinese is "Shen qu"). He has written the lyrics and sings on the tracks, saying, "I really loved it. I had to make so much effort; I have never known music before. I'm really very passionate."

As is the focus of his visual art, "Divina Commedia" will focus on human rights issues. Reuters reports:

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

One song on the album is called 'Hotel Americana', a dig at the U.S. 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 has collaborated with Zuoxiao Zuzhou, a rock musician who was also called in for questioning during Ai's detention.

By Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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Activism Ai Weiwei Art China Heavy Metal Music