Zomba Prison Project

When Dr Little Dinizulo Mtengano, Active Chief Commissioner of Zomba Prison in Malawi, received the news in early December 2015, the first thing he said was: “What is a...

When Dr Little Dinizulo Mtengano, Active Chief Commissioner of Zomba Prison in Malawi, received the news in early December 2015, the first thing he said was: “What is a Grammy?”

It all started in the summer of 2013, when Grammy-winning producer, Ian Brennan and his wife, Italian photographer and filmmaker, Marilena Delli, decided to take a bet on the prisoners’ band that was practicing and performing in the maximum security prison of Zomba in Malawi, a 1935 building designed to host 340 prisoners,  now housing more than two thousands.

The recording produced about 6 hours of music, which had to be cut down to 20 tracks for the album I Have No Everything Here (Six Degrees Records) that quickly gained press popularity, was nominated for a Grammy for “Best World Music Album” of the year 2015 and was chosen by iTunes as one of the “Best World Music Albums of 2015”.

The album is the result of the collaboration of Brennan and 16 artists from the prison, both men and women, who live in two separated areas of the building. Interestingly, it has been reported that at the beginning, women were much more reluctant toward the project than men, who had already organized themselves in a formed band. However, given time, the women in the group also produced some extremely meaningful pieces such as “I Kill No More“. Most of the inmates at Zomba have been given life-sentences and the crimes range from murder and theft to homosexuality and witchcraft (for women).

The Zomba Prison Project has helped these people to overcome the darkness and sufferings of a life spent behind bars. It keeps them busy and it allows to express themselves in a way that no other activity would. Although the sounds are often vital and light, the meaning of the songs reveal the hard daily life of a prisoner in a country where the prison system is unprepared to face the continuous spreading of diseases and violence.

“This is the place were I discovered my potential” says Chikondi Salanje, one of the band members “I am glad that I am part of the people that have put Malawi on the map and the World knows that prisoners can be instrumental in changing other people’s lives.”

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Most of the recorded songs are sang in Malawian local language Chichewa, and part of the profits from the album are used to fund legal representation for the band members. Since the foundation of the musicians group, three women have been released and three other prisoners are under review for their charges.

When Dr Little Dinizulo Mtengano broke the amazing nomination news to the prisoners, they were all in shock, some of them knew what a Grammy was, but the surprise was general. The work that they have done has been recognized at international level, and, even if none of the artists will be able to participate in the ceremony which will be held in February in Los Angeles, their voices will be heard all around the world.

Track n. 3 “Please, Don’t Kill My Child“, written and  sung by Thomas Binamo, refers to the fact that children are often imprisoned as a results of their mothers’ crimes.  These mothers, and fathers, can’t protect their children from the mistake they make, and the tone of the song seems to recall a feeling of regret for the future of these innocent children.

The translation of the lyrics from Chichewa was done by our dear friend Davide Pantaleoni who works for an Italian NGO called “Sottosopra“, operating in health, education and social projects in Malawi.

Lyrics

You men have no pity,

You are killing my son,

But brothers what has he done wrong?

You are killing my son,

But brothers what has he done wrong,

That I don’t know?

This son of mine what has he done wrong?

I had to suffer by myself,

I had to raise him by myself,

I had to nurse him by myself,

How many troubles I faced,

By myself to raise him.

How many troubles I faced,

He was the only child I had, my son!

 

 

Categories
Sounds from the Bucket
Francesca Aloisio

Francesca is both an International Relations graduate and a dancer living in Rome. She is particularly interested in international issues, intercultural learning and culture sharing, as well as music and arts. She is currently a consultant for the UN agency IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) in the communication division.
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