Murderer on vocals: Malawi prison band vies for Grammy glory

 12 Jan 2016 - 8:51

Murderer on vocals: Malawi prison band vies for Grammy glory
Malawi's Zomba Prison Project band member Thomasi Juma, an inmate, plays the drums during a rehearsal at the Central Prison's makeshift music studio in Zomba. AFP / by Felix Mponda.

 

Zomba, Malawi: On vocals: convicted murderer Elias Chimenya, on bass guitar: burglar Stefano Nyerenda, and prison guard Thomas Binamo is one of the band's songwriters.

Malawi's Zomba Prison Project band has a unique line-up that could grab global success at the recording industry's prestigious Grammy Awards next month.

Their 20-track record "I Have No Everything Here" has been nominated in the Best World Music Album category, with the winner to be announced at a gala ceremony in Los Angeles.

Musical talent at the Zomba maximum-security prison was unearthed in 2013 when US producer Ian Brennan spent two weeks working with 60 inmates and guards to make the album.

Six hours of recordings were edited down into the final selection of songs, featuring 16 of the prison's musicians, singing mainly in the local Chichewa language.

Elias Chimenya, 46, who is serving a life term for killing a man in a quarrel in the 1980s, wrote and sang the haunting ballad "Jealous Neighbour", the album's fifth track.

"I am a reformed person, and music has helped me to be cool and deal with the situation of being incarcerated for life," he told AFP at the decrepit prison in the poor southern African nation.

"(But) I hope to not die in prison, and instead to be released to take up a music career outside."

AFP