Malawi, a landlocked country in southeast Africa may get its first ever Grammy and it is not one of its popular acts that has been nominated for the prestigious award, it is a prison music group.
Who knew such quality could come out of an overcrowded prison, designed to hold 340 people but houses more than 2,000. Trust Grammy-winning producer, Ian Brennan to polish any talent, even prisoners.
Brennan and his wife, Marilena Delli, a documentary filmmaker, spent 10 days at Zomba Prison during which he recorded songs composed and performed by the prisoners. He released some of the music as “The Zomba Prison Project: I Have No Everything Here” .
The producer who is credited with discovering talents in Africa, including The Good Ones (Rwanda) and Wayo: Trance Percussion Masters (South Sudan), had during a 2011 visit to Malawi discovered the Malawi Mouse Boys. His experience in the country stayed with him and he committed himself to doing something.
“It’s such an impoverished area – and a beautiful area as well – but the prisoners are the poorest of the poor, and the conditions they live in are quite severe. And some are being held on negligible charges like witchcraft or homosexuality,” Brennan told New York Times in a telephone interview last year. “So we thought it would be a compelling thing to do, just for us as human beings, to find a way to give people a platform for self-expression.”
The producer’s work with the prisoners have caught the world’s attention on the biggest stage with the Grammy nomination in the World Music category.
Some 70 male and female prisoners were involved in some form in the album, most of them serving life sentences.
Although Brennan does not expect to make money from the project, it has been a tool for raising much needed funds for the prisoners, many needing legal representation, some now released.
The album, “I Have No Everything Here” by the Zomba Prison Project is a collection of 20 songs; all but two were written by the prisoners themselves.