The outspoken artist is set to release an album with rock musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou, a friend who was briefly questioned during Ai’s 2011 detention, reports The Guardian.

“I really loved it. I had to make so much effort; I have never known music before. I’m really very passionate,” said Ai, who wrote the lyrics and sings.

The artist said he discovered his love for music when he was held by Chinese authorities for 81 days. Supporters said this was state retaliation for his activism about human rights, while the official reason given was tax evasion.

“To tell you the truth, I never listened to music. Then, during my detention, the guards were so bored they kept saying to me, ‘Can you sing a song?'” Ai said. “I felt so sad I couldn’t sing any except the revolutionary ones we had to learn when we were growing up … It would have made the time seem much shorter. After I came out, I realised I had never really listened to music or sung, so I decided to make an album. I know so many artists and musicians and they were really supportive.”

Elton John dedicated a concert in Beijing to Ai last year, prompting authorities to harden their line on performances byforeign artists. Despite the musical gap in genres between Ai’s album and the songs John is famous for, Ai has said he will ask the singer for his feedback.

“I was impressed by his very warm heart and passion and the expression of the music, so that gave me a clear push for making my own album. I will send it to him and ask his opinion. I haven’t asked him for advice – I will surprise him.”

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