They were jailed yes. Living behind bars at Zomba Prison but for them to snatch a Grammy nomination for the Best World Music Album of the year is not a scanty achievement at all.
Since they were sentenced to prison for different crimes, some have never dreamed of many things from the cramped interior of the cell, they never dreamed they could receive a Grammy nomination only thanks to the intervention of producer Ian Brennan and photographer and documentarian, Marilena Delli.
The production under Six Degrees Records Record Label named as “Zomba Prison Project” has received a Grammy nomination for “Best World Music Album” of the year.
The album titled “I Have No Everything Here” describes the long and arduous journey towards a freedom that is not guaranteed. The prisoners sing about death, AIDS, and, often, missing their children.
The music is also inventive, uniformly compelling and in a way that unsettles the listener, entirely lovely.
However, Malawi24 understands that none of the band members will be available to receive the award if finally won because prison laws would not allow them out.
The Project is is the brainchild of Brennan, and the group comprises of twelve members.
The group wants to demythologize the romanticism of prison with informative music.
The members’ hope to terrify potential young criminals with horrific tales of prison rape, physical brutality and mental torture that they will walk a straight line through life. Brennan describe music as the best way to convey the message through prison recording.
“I Have No Everything Here” album provides abundant testimony of prison hardships and brutality. The lyrics, which are written by the inmates, deal in a direct and brutal way with issues like AIDS, murder, betrayal, prison rape, suicide and laundry detail.
“Each Group has been jailed for serious offenses–armed robbery, murder and many are repeat offenders. Some have spent more than half of their lives in prison .”
According to the United States of America website “Noisy” The pair established the “Zomba Prison Project” with the hope to use music so that inmates raise both awareness and hard cash in which to help those incarcerated with both legal representation and logistical support. So far they have seen three inmates released.
In an interview with “Noise” Brennan said they formed the Malawi Mouse Boy records in a search for a group like them.
“We were interested in going to underrepresented countries (of which there are many, too many really). We were also interested in potentially going to prisons, which were even more underrepresented. This is the maximum-security prison in Malawi, which is on the border of Malawi and Mozambique.”
So we were able to tentatively set up potential access to the prison, but it wouldn’t be guaranteed unless we actually went there. We literally didn’t know until the day before we started recording whether we would be allowed in until we met with the head of prisons. It seemed like a leap of faith, but it seemed like a place where there’d be a lot of people needing and wanting to express themselves,” he stated.
Zomba Prison was designed to hold 340 people, but today it houses over two thousand prisoners convicted of different crimes.
According to Six Degrees Records, the album, “I Have No Everything Here”, features the music of men and women held at an overcrowded maximum security prison in Zomba, Malawi.
Many of the prisoners have come from lives of extreme poverty, and while some are serving life sentences for murder and theft, others are being held for crimes like witchcraft or homosexuality.
The conditions inside the brick walls of Zomba Prison are extreme and severe. Still the music-making is a multi-generational affair with some members as young as their early twenties, while a few select others have reached more than sixty years of age. Each of the songs on the album were written by the inmates.
From the unaccompanied vocals on the track “I Am Alone” to the bass line on “Women Today Take Care of Business,” listeners are exposed to the range of musical styles and human sentiment existing within the Zomba Prision.
Through the Zomba Prison Project, three of the women involved have gained release from their sentences. And three other cases are now actively under review due to the funds that have been raised. The hope is that these efforts will be ongoing and more prisoners will be advocated for as a result of awareness and support brought about through the “I Have No Everything Here” record.