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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own