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It took this music group from Malawi an entire week to find out they'd been nominated for a 2016 Grammy award.

Why? It's hard to know what's going on in the outside world if you have little access to it, and well, all of the group's members are in prison.


All images via sixdegreesrecords/YouTube.

The group, called the Zomba Prison Project, has been nominated for the Best World Music Album.

The nomination is for their album "I Have No Everything Here," and it's the first time anyone from Malawi has been nominated in the Grammy Awards' 58 years, let alone from a maximum-security prison.

And despite the whole being-in-prison thing, it's pretty lucky how the nomination happened.

Music producer Ian Brennan deliberately set out to find voices that aren't well-represented in the music industry.

Brennan, a Grammy winner himself, has always had his pulse on world music. He knows that talent is everywhere, even in the places you'd least expect. The problem is accessing it.

"How can it be just that tens of thousands of 'artists' from cities like Los Angeles and London are given platforms, but entire countries are left voiceless globally?" Brennan asks on his website. "This mathematical absurdity of superiorness only mirrors society's greater inequities."

With the goal of closing that gap, Brennan and his wife set out to provide a platform to underrepresented voices. A prison in one of the world's poorest countries seemed like an interesting place to start.

"How can it be just that tens of thousands of 'artists' from cities like Los Angeles and London are given platforms, but entire countries are left voiceless globally?"

The couple were given access to the Zomba Prison in Malawi in exchange for offering classes on violence prevention to its inmates and guards, according to NBC News. There, Brennan was able to work with the musical talent living inside those prison walls everyday. And talent wasn't hard to find.

Brennan worked with around 60 inmates, who ranged in age from 22 to 70, helping them tell their own stories through music.

Over six hours of what Brennan calls field recordings, an album was born — mostly in the inmates' native Chichewa language.

You can hear one of the album's main songs, the heart-wrenchingly named "Please Don't Kill My Child," here:


With tracks like "I See the Whole World Dying of AIDS," "Don't Hate Me," "I Kill No More," "I Am Alone," and "Forgiveness," it's clear that the album gave the artists an opportunity to release a lot of their feelings.

And that's the point, Brennan says, describing music and art in general as "by far the most effective kind of social-work that exists."

It's giving them another kind of release, too. Proceeds from the album sales are helping certain prisoners to appeal their detention. So far, three of the women involved in the project have been released. That's major.

The album has been critically well-received all over the world, which emphasizes how important it is.

On National Public Radio, Betto Arcos called it "one of the most exciting projects I've heard."

There's a world of talent out there. It's important to make sure we're stepping outside our comfort zones to hear and appreciate music and stories from around the world, so whether it wins a Grammy in February or not, the album and its nomination is still a huge win.

You can hear more from the Zomba Prison Project in this short video:

via UNSW

This article originally appeared on 07.10.21


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