The Malawi Prison Band: From Inglorious Notorieties to the Grammy Awards Celebrities.
Recently, the Malawi Prison Band shocked the world and the music industry with their beautiful and powerful lyrics, which effectively transformed them overnight from infamous notorieties to celebrities and secured them a rare nomination for the prestigious Grammy Awards – the country’s first Grammy nomination.
It was an impressive collective achievement by a group of male and female inmates from the overcrowded Malawi maximum-security prison in Zomba. With their ages ranging from early 20s to 70s, some of the band members – one of them serving a life imprisonment – were thrown into the abysmal depth of prison for serious crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery. Some members of the group, especially, women are facing minor charges homosexuality and “witchcraft.“ Yet others are dumped in the prison due to bureaucratic higgledy-piggledy.
We totally and irrevocably condemn the past of the prisoners, which landed them in jail. There is no excuse in breaking the law. Otherwise, there would be social pandemonium if laws are not obeyed. Hence the government has the responsibility to act and punish lawbreakers.
But in as much as we unconditionally condemn the past activities of the band group, which landed them in the prison, we must equally comment their heroic acts and strong determination to change their lives. Definitely, the Malawi Prison Band Group did not allow their dark past to discourage them. Ironically, with their album “I Have No Everything Here,” a collection of 20 songs, 18 of the songs written by the group themselves and recorded with the most primitive and simple equipment, like buckets used as drums, the group, has shown they have indeed much both in prison (Malawi) and the world in general. They have shown the world that destruction is the mother of creativity. Even though their lives and future might have been destroyed due to their criminal past, it takes much sacrifice and self determination to succeed. With a strong will, one can make a near impossible possible. You only need to believe in your ability, the rest follows. Perhaps, that was the thought of their producer, Ian Brennan, the US Grammy-winning producer known for his commitment to sourcing for the talented voiceless often virtually ignored by the mainstream music industry.
While we praise Ian Brennan, the producer, we must definitely commend the acting chief commissioner of prisons of Malawi, Little Dinizulu Mtengano, who created and encouraged the group, whom he met accidentally. Listen to Chief Mtengano:
“When I visited the Zomba Central Prison, I saw some boys playing locally made guitars from empty [containers]. And they could play music. And once they started playing music, there was an attraction of prisoners coming out from their cells to listen to this music. And I said, “˜No, let us improve this.’ “
The 2016 Grammy takes place in Los Angeles, USA, on 15 February, however, and sadly indeed, members of the Malawi Prison Band will not be available in Los Angeles to witness this prestigious ceremony. As prisoners, they are legally prohibited to travel to the USA.
But that is not the only insurmountable obstacles facing the group. Even though their music is nominated for the Grammy, the prisoners have not started making millions from it. But at least, the project has helped the group to take care of their legal costs. With the limited amount earned from the music, the group can afford to pay lawyers to help fight for their release or reduction of their prison sentences.
We believe with the production of the “I Have No Everything Here” album, the Malawi Prison Band wants to be given a second chance to put their lives in order. They need our support. Now that their musical creativity and Grammy Awards nomination are receiving coverage and appreciations globally from the media houses down to the music industry, it is our duty to encourage the path the group has taken by patronizing their music.
How best can we support and thank these once notorious elements, who have rewritten the page of Malawi history with their first ever Grammy Awards nomination, than to do our best and make sure their music is globally promoted and thoroughly sold?