Monday, February 15, 2016

Malawi Prison Band: Unlikeliest Grammy Nominees Ever?

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. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Music for Cats, Anyone?

Given the healthy Kickstarter support and satisfied early customers, will “Music for Cats” soon be topping the Billboard Singles and Download Charts?

By: Ringo Bones 

Yes, folks, it is actually a thing and basing on the Kickstarter support during the past few years and satisfied early customer testimonials, it seems like the New York Times actually got it right when it called Cat Music as the number one idea of the year 2009. Music for Cats was born out of cellist David Teie’s scientific theory on the fundamental nature of music appreciation by mammals. He contended that every species has an intuitive biological response to sounds present in their early development. Felines establish their sense of music through the sounds heard after they’re born – i.e. birds chirping or their mother’s purr. With this premise, Teie composed Music for Cats, incorporating feline-centric sounds and their natural vocalizations with respect to a cat’s frequency range of hearing. An independent study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and published in Applied Animal Behavior verified that Music for Cats resonates conclusively with its target audience – namely cats – and writing that “cats showed a significant preference for and interest in species-appropriate music.” 

Cellist David Teie was born into a musical family, spanning three generations of professional musicians and a long line of musicians, composers and professional instrumentalists. Since 2014, Teie has been the conductor and music director of Washington D.C.’s premier chamber orchestra – the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra – and currently serves on the faculty at University of Maryland’s School of Music. His career has spanned performing as a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra under Russian maestro Mstislav Rostropovich, acting principal cellist of the San Francisco Symphony where he performed as cellist on Metallica’s 1999 album S&M. His research has been published in the Royal Society Biology Letters and in Evolution of Emotional Communication. 

According to Teie, cats were our first choice because they’re widely kept as pets, allowing us to easily share music with them. While the most mellifluous of Debussy’s compositions seem to be largely ignored by cats – i.e. most human-centric music seems to be ignored by cats and raising the volume only drives them away. Testimonials by those who already manage to purchase the CD or download the music and tested Teie’s Music for Cats on their own cats say that it has a relaxing and calming effect on their cats, making them less hyperactive and more able to adapt in the indoor domestic environment. Will there soon be hi-fi audio gear specifically designed to please cats?