Even though its kind of hard for them to pay their dues touring the bar band scene because they’re in prison, are Malawi’s Zomba Prison Band the most unlikeliest musicians to get a Grammy nomination?
By: Ringo Bones
Malawi’s Zomba Central Prison, the maximum security prison had gained notoriety because it is old, unsanitary, overcrowded and housed Malawi’s most dangerous murderers and rapists. But it will soon get the unlikeliest image boost ever after its prison band got nominated for the 2016 Grammy Awards. The makeshift studio where 14 prisoners and two guards recorded an unusual album of songs about the lessons of loss, sin and forgiveness which as luck would have it is now shortlisted with the works of other well-known performers slated to win a Grammy for the World Music category that finally allows the small, impoverished nation of Malawi its first chance of winning a Grammy Award.
Music producer Ian Brennan discovered them a few years ago and was surprised by the prison band’s talent given that the music program of the prison is only supposed to be as a means to relieve the tedium of prison life. Surprisingly, most of the Zomba Prison Band members had only discovered their musical talents after enrolling in the prison’s music program given that it is by so far the most interesting activity to do inside the prison.
Even if they win a Grammy or not, proceeds of their album sales goes to fund the legal representation of the band members. AIDS remains a problem among the staff and inmates at the Zomba prison, which was built in 1895 during British colonial rule and houses 2,400 prisoners, about triple the facility’s capacity. Malawi’s most hardened criminals are incarcerated here, but there are also inmates who never received proper legal representation or who are simply lost in Malawi’s overburdened justice system.