With the Grammy awards set for this Monday January 15th 2016, all eyes are set on big names such as Taylor Swift, Kanye West as well as Compton born rapper Kendrick Lamar whose album “How to Pimp a Butterfly” received a whopping 11 nominations, the highest of any other artist this year. While the largest honors of the night are typically conferred to those artists who accomplish worldwide success, there are a number of categories that celebrate local talent such as the Best World Music album category. This year, one of the groups nominated for this category comes from the most unlikely of places, a prison in Malawi. Dubbed the Zomba Prison Project, this group of 14 inmates and 2 guards from Malawi’s Zomba Maximum Prison released their critically acclaimed album “I Have No Everything Here” in 2014. The album was recorded entirely in the prison and produced by Grammy award winning producer Ian Brennan and his wife Marilena Delli, after the two entered Zomba in 2013 where they were allowed to set up a small mobile recording studio. As a producer for over 3 decades, Brennan has dedicated part of his career to producing music from marginalized groups around the world including regions in Africa like Rwanda and South Sudan. With its insights into the problems afflicting many African societies, the music from the Zomba Prison Project also provides a glimpse into the lives of the inmates at Zomba “like the three sisters who sing of the killing that brought them to Zomba to serve life sentences” (nytimes.com). Most of inmates were first introduced to music in 2008 with the help of Mr. Binamo, one of the 2 guards involved in the Brennan’s project, when Binamo formed his own band in the prison to help spread AIDS awareness messages. Since then, inmates have learned to play instruments such as guitars and drums provided by prison officials. The Zomba Prison Project marks the first Grammy nomination for southeast African country of Malawi and has helped increase awareness for this small impoverished nation. While it is uncertain whether or not the project will take the award this Monday, this nomination is definitely a major feat worth celebrating.
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