Music of Malawi Prisoners Released in UK: The Zomba Prison Project

“I have No Everything Here” is being released in UK, by Six Degrees Records, as part of Ian Brenner’s “The Zomba Prison Project”.

Brenner, the producer with three Grammy nominated records (Best World Music 2011, Best Traditional Folk 2006 and 2007) and the Italian Photographer and Filmmaker, Marilena Delli, travelled to the border of Malawi and Mozambique, in the summer of 2013, to record the music of prisoners in the maximum security prison in Zomba. In the dilapidated Dickensian brick structure, they found 2000 inmates sharing a hostile environment made for only 340 people. They included men, woman and children, with the majority serving life sentences for crimes that ranged from petty to extremely severe. Some had already served years without a proper trial.

In the men’s side, Brennan and Delli found a group led by an individual who had committed a murder during a robbery plot to steal equipment from another band. In the women’s side, they found inmates who had been accused of “witchcraft” – their only crime was to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although the women did not have any instruments, they threw themselves in to the project, using their voices to record beautiful and moving personal tunes in songs like “I kill No More”. A total of 60 people, aged between 20 and 60, worked together to produce 6 hours of music.

But access to the prison was not easy. At one point, the pair was nearly detained for taking pictures in a forbidden area. At another moment, they witnessed the beating of a prisoner who was trying to escape. After swearing to secrecy, they were allowed access to the grounds in exchange for classes on violence prevention to inmates and guards. Brennan’s other specialities came in handy. Since 1993, he had run courses on conflict resolution and violence prevention. He also had written two books on the subject: “Hate-less” and “Anger Antidotes”.

“A single, nameless one-hit wonder brings more comfort to the world than almost any single psychologist can hope to in a lifetime”(Ian Brennan).

From this heart-breaking, heart-racing and heart-warming experience, Ian Brennan consolidates music as one of the most effective kind of social-work that exists: “A single, nameless one-hit wonder brings more comfort to the world than almost any single psychologist can hope to in a lifetime”(Ian Brennan).

All the songs from “I Have No Everything Here” are written by the inmates themselves. Titles such “Give Me Back My Child”, “I See the Whole World Dying of AIDS’ and “Don’t Hate Me” tell personal stories with profound sincerity and humanity.

As a result of the project, three of the women who worked on it, are now free. Three others are having their cases reviewed. Brennan and Delli hope to use the album to raise awareness and to fund legal representation and logistical support to the prisoners.

The album can be purchased from Six Degrees Records at: https://zombaprisonproject.bandcamp.com.

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