Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to release heavy metal album

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Story highlights

  • Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to debut a heavy metal album
  • Nine tracks on the album focus on Chinese politics
  • Decision to branch out into music came from his 2011 detention
  • Elton John encouraged him to complete the album

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, whose artwork is shown in museums around the world, is taking a different direction with his latest project -- a heavy metal album.

Ai wrote and sang each of the nine tracks on the debut album, which is called "Divina Commedia" after a poem by Italian poet Dante, and will be released next month.

"The lyrics are about the current political situation," he told CNN by telephone from Beijing.

One song is about Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist who fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing after escaping from house arrest last year.

Another mentions Wang Lijun, the police chief who also sought shelter with U.S. officials last year, in Chengdu, a move which exposed the scandal engulfing disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai and his wife, now convicted murderer, Gu Kailai.

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Outspoken and provocative, Ai is perhaps best known for his work on the famous "Bird's Nest" stadium built for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

His critical stance toward the Chinese government gained attention after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that left nearly 90,000 dead, including many children who died when their shoddily-constructed schools collapsed.

A recent exhibition of his work at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC featured hundreds of children's backpacks lashed together in the shape of a snake, which Ai said represented the bags left behind by the students.

While a departure from his acclaimed sculpture and installations, the album is not his first foray into the world of music -- last October he filmed a parody of "Gangnam Style," the surprise worldwide hit by Korean rapper Psy.

In that clip, Ai limited his musical involvement to dancing, but other clips can be found on the Internet of the artist flexing his vocal cords.

Ai told CNN the decision to branch out into music stemmed from his detention in 2011 when his guards would ask him to sing a tune to pass the time. Ai was taken into custody in April and detained for 81 days amid a government crackdown on political activists. He was accused of evading a huge amount of taxes, charges Ai has said were trumped up.

Ai was released but with heavy restrictions on his movements and the Chinese government still holds his passport.

While Ai describes the tracks as "heavy metal" or "hard rock", it was an encounter with pop star Elton John that encouraged him to finally complete the album. John dedicated his performance in Beijing in November to Ai, who at the time said he was deeply touched by the gesture.

Ai cited few musical influences and said he knew little about Western popular music despite a stint living in New York in the 1980s: "When I grew up all the music we had was revolutionary stuff."

Ai said he would try to release the album in China next month, along with a music video, but he was gloomy about its prospects.

"I am completely censored," he said. "I will put it online so people can download it but I think the authorities will just delete it."