Malawi’s Zomba Prison Project on Monday failed to win the Grammy award but they have put a mark in the music industry’s world most prestigious prize with their highly innovative nominee under the best world music album category which was won by Angelique Kidjo at the gala ceremony in Los Angeles.
Kidjo, Beninese-born singer based in United States, won for “Sings,” a collection of her songs infused with Western classical traditions in a collaboration with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg.
This is the second straight year that Kidjo has won the Best World Music Album prize, after last year’s “Eve” that paid tribute to African women.
But despite not winning a Malawian line-up of convicted criminals have been noticed by the world music stage.
The 20-track album, “I Have No Everything Here”, arranged by the US producer Ian Brennan, was recorded during recording sessions in a makeshift studio next to a noisy carpentry workshop at the Zomba maximum-security prison.
Convicted murderer Elias Chimenya on bass guitar, burglar Stefano Nyirenda, and prison guard Thomas Binamo, one of the band’s songwriters, are just some of the 60 prisoners, who make up Malawi’s Zomba Prison Project band,
“I am a reformed person, and music has helped me to be cool and deal with the situation of being incarcerated for life,” Chimenya, who is serving a life term for killing a man in a quarrel, told AFP earlier in Malawi.
The three others in contention for the World Music Grammy were all previous nominees — satirist Anoushka Shankar, Brazilian legend Gilberto Gil and South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
A visibly happy Kidjo, dressed in a colourful African dress, ran to the stage to accept the award and danced to James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” performed by a pit orchestra.
She dedicated the Grammy to “all the traditional musicians in Africa.”
“Africa is on the rise, Africa is positive, Africa is joyful,” she said.
“Let’s get together and be one with music, and say no to hate and violence,” she said to applause.
Despite not winning the Grammy, the recognition the inmates have got will spur them on in the music industry.
Ian Brennan, the album’s producer and a 2012 Grammy award winner in his own right, told the Associated Press news agency that he was surprised that his “massive, money-losing labour of love” had gained attention on the world music stage.
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