Come February, a group of Malawians currently housed in a crammed, dilapidating maximum-security prison might be at the top of the music world.
This follows their surprising Grammy nomination in the World Music category, a first for the country.
The group of male and female inmates at Zomba Prison are up against Benin’s Angelique Kidjo and South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who are both previous Grammy winners.
Zomba Prison Project producer Ian Brennan, himself a former Grammy winner, told The Nation yesterday that there has been an outpouring of attention from around the globe for the men and women of Zomba Central Prison.
“The response has been overwhelming since the announcement of the Grammy nomination. I’ve truly never seen anything like it before for any of my four previous nominations….even when I won the Grammy for Tinariwen!” he said.
Among the many major media that have covered the story are the BBC, Al Jazeera, Rolling Stone, CBC (Canada), ABC (Australia), The Guardian and New York Daily News.
Commenting on a post on the BCC Africa’s Facebook page, people from across the continent threw their weight behind Malawi’s nomination.
“Prisoners must win at least,” commented Victor Ndivhuwo Hubert Mudzanani on the post.
Millicent Ogenga was more passionate in her plea: “There are more and better bands and singers in Africa than Angelique Kidjo from Benin and Lady Smith Black Mambazo! Year in, year out it’s one or the other. When is the last time any of them released a new album? There’s a lot of diversity in African music which should be explored by this panel. Africans should be involved in picking a winner not foreigners deciding for us.”
Other followers concentrated on the achievements the prison band has made and not necessarily the nomination.
“They might have chained their hands and feet behind bars, but they can never chain their musical minds,” said Michael Mwanza.
Siime Mugisha Jeresi said: “If I am to do jail time, I want a Malawian prison.” while Trish Lutta wrote: “Awesome example of effective correction and rehabilitation of prisoners. The warm heart of Africa it is indeed.”
Sidique Buba Barrow also added his voice by saying: “It looks like these folks are being transformed for good. Perhaps, Malawi is the place for effective prisoner rehabilitation.”n