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Humans · Arts

Malawi goes Grammy

December 19th, 2015
in:Humans, Arts
by:Ama Lorenz
located in:Malawi
tags:Grammy, Ian Brennan, Malawi, Zomba Prison project

Nothing is more beautiful for a journalist than to pursue a story that becomes (almost) to a good end. And, so we were as editors particularly pleased, as we received an email from Grammy-winning music producer and author, Ian Brennan, who has to report the (almost) incredible.

In summer this year, fairplanet reported about the Central Prison of Malawi. Ian Brennan and the Italian documentary filmmaker and photographer Marilena Delli were granted special access by the head of the prisons in exchange for Brennan providing violence-prevention classes for some of the inmates and guards. A subject, which Ian is a sought-after expert for and about he has authored two books.

Brennan and Delli were sworn to the utmost secrecy, and at one point were detained briefly for sneaking photos in a forbidden area. At another moment, they were caught amidst a brawl and witnessed guards beating a prisoner who attempted escape through the main door. The prison built to imprison around 300 inmates - held more than 2,000 prisoners. As it was hard to bear and to raise awareness about the prisoners’ situation Brennan and Delli established the “Zomba Prison Project”.

Now, the project that was formed in the summer of 2013 as a band made up of inmates from the Central Prison of Malawi, has secured with the album "I Have No Everything Here," a Grammy nomination.

"It's certainly beyond anyone's expectation," Ian Brennan told NBC News. "This means we've been heard. And that's shocking.“

Gentle guitars and soft melodies with powerful lyrics in the language of Chichewa is the album is a unique collection of 20 songs, 18 of which were written by the prisoners themselves. Sadly, though, one of the women featured on the album had already suffered the loss of her toddler, who was also imprisoned with her. And, then a year later - only 37 years of age - she too perished within the walls of the Central Prison of Malawi. Three other incarcerated women have gained release, and two cases are now under review.

Malawi was not only named the poorest country in the world in February by the World Bank, currently, more than 230,000 citizens are displaced due to seasonal flooding in the south. The “Zomba Prison Project” is holding another record with its Grammy nomination – indeed a very positive one: As this is the first Grammy nomination ever for Malawi in the 58-year history of the awards. Even, only 12 percent of the sub-Saharan African countries have ever received a nomination.

The surprising amount of attention that the project has gathered globally after the nomination is astounding and such an uplifting “good news” story for this year, coming to an end.

"I am very happy for the prisoners and quite shocked really," Ian Brennan said in an interview with Al-Jazeera. "The awards have become extremely celebrity-driven, and ironically, the World category in particular has become so predictable - it's the same names almost every year … so to see a group of unknown individuals get a nomination makes it that much more of an accomplishment."

The Zomba Prison Project on Facebook
Get the “I Have No Everything Here” album here.
Read also Music behind bars.

Article written by:
Ama Lorenz
Editorial Board Member, Author
Current Map: Our coverage
© Marilena Delli
Inmates and members of the band of the Zomba Prison project
Inmates and members of the band of the Zomba Prison project
Mini documentation about the Zomba Prison project
© Marilena Delli
Grammy-nominated: Zomba Prison project
Grammy-nominated: Zomba Prison project

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