Ian Brennan, the American Grammy Award-winning producer, who recorded Zomba Prison Project, says he was shocked after it emerged that the band has been nominated for the prestigious Grammy Awards for their I Have No Anything album.
Speaking on Tuesday, Brennan noted that although the Zomba Central Prison band’s nomination was unlikely, there is need for Malawians to support them.
“As the first Malawians ever to receive a Grammy nomination, this is something that all of Malawi can be proud of. The fact is that very few countries in Africa—aside from the ones with very large populations such as Mali, South Africa, and Nigeria— have ever received even a single nomination. And in all of Far East Asia, there has only been one nomination received for popular music ever,” he said.
Meanwhile, Malawi Prison Service acting commissioner of prisons Little Mtengano has hailed the Zomba Prison Project.
“This [nomination] shows that these inmates are people like anyone else who are capable of achieving remarkable things. We live with the inmates everyday so we know what they are capable of doing. And this is just one of the positive stories coming out of prison,” Mtengano said.
In the summer of 2013, Brennan and Italian photographer and filmmaker Marilena Delli recorded and documented Malawi’s maximum-security Zomba Central Prison inmates as they sang deeply personal songs, many of which depict the harsh conditions in which they live.
The resultant album, I Have No Anything, has made history by ensuring that Zomba Prison Project is the first Malawian band to be nominated for the Grammys.
The album, released in January, will be competing against Brazilian icon Gilberto Gil’s Gilbertos Samba Ao Vivo, Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo’s Sings, South African Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Music From Inala and Indian Anoushka Shankar’s Home.
All the songs were written by the inmates, and many have tellingly personal titles such as Give Me Back My Child, I See the Whole World Dying of Aids and Don’t Hate Me.
Brennan first entered the prison in 2013 and he was not sure he would be allowed access to record.