Suu Kyi, dedicated follower of the Grateful Dead

Nobel laureate reveals surprising musical passion on eve of guest-directing UK arts festival

Aung San Suu Kyi, lauded as the emblem of Burma's long hoped-for democratic reform, has revealed an unsuspected side. In the run-up to Brighton Festival she announced that she is a fan of reggae legend Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead, the Seventies rock band known for their blend of rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, country, improvisational jazz, psychedelia and long, improvised live performances.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winner was chosen to be artistic director of this year's festival, and during an interview in Rangoon with the festival's chief executive, Andrew Comben, talked about the power of the arts to communicate messages of freedom and human rights, as well as her more conventional passion for Beethoven, Mozart and Bach.

The sister of her late husband Michael Aris and her brother-in-law were also heavily involved in planning the festival before her release from house arrest last November. The programme also features artists that reflect her passion for songs of resistance, including dub musician Lee "Scratch" Perry, who inspired Bob Marley, and protest music by John Cale and Asian Dub Foundation.

Ms Suu Kyi is the subject of a critically acclaimed play which will be performed at the festival with a new ending. The Lady of Burma, praised for its insights into Ms Suu Kyi's non-political persona, is part of a much wider celebration of her life and struggle. While clearly delighted to be guest-directing a festival for the first time, she expressed disbelief about being the focus of a play, and seems bewildered that she is so widely revered. Despite her inexorable political responsibilities, she has promised to watch as many of the festival's performances as possible online.

The playwright Richard Shannon, who wrote the original in 2006 after studying dozens of Ms Suu Kyi's letters and home videos, last night said: "She may not want to be seen as an icon, but people need a focus: they need to engage with a person to engage with an issue. The play tries to get behind the mask and tell the human story of a very warm, passionate person who has a great sense of humour."

A keen piano player, Ms Suu Ki has been playing Mozart since her release "just to make me happy" after years with an "unplayable" piano during her house arrest. But she laments her own abilities: "I've often wished in these last few years under detention that I were a composer because then I would be able to express what I felt through music, which is somehow so much more universal than words."

Ms Suu Kyi accepted the Freedom of the City from Brighton and Hove Council with an almost childlike joy: "Can I just go anywhere I like in the city? That will be fun, going along Brighton knocking on doors to find out whether they really will open for me or not!"

On the last day of the festival, on 29 May, hundreds of people across Brighton will recite passages from the UN Declaration of Human Rights and 2,500 lotus flowers will be released, including one origami flower made by Ms Suu Kyi.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick