Grammy-nominated album a cry from detention

Good people, Zomba Central Prison has hogged a global glow this week.

This time, it is not in the spotlight for wrong reasons.

Rather, I’ve No Everything Here, a song from the maximum security prison, has earned a Grammy nomination for World Music Album gong.

The nod is the first time Malawian voices are vying for a grammy.

This is good news, isn’t it?

The community circled by the barbed, high walls of Zomba have demonstrated to the world why our prisons could be untapped music centres of no mean standing.

However, the feat stirs some sleeping thoughts on the state of local music.

If a pastime of the voices behind the bars can make the globally anticipated list, why is it still so hard for offerings of unchained career musicians and fans favourites who dominate playlists of radio stations to win the nod of the brains behind the awards organised by the US-based National Academy for Recording Arts and Sciences.

The Zomba Prison Project might not have bagged 11 nominations like rapper Kendrick Lamar or seven like megastar Taylor Swift.

However, the complete list of Grammy nominees shows they belong to nothing but a world-class league way beyond the reach of publicity-happy imposters only giod for awards that even Google knows nothing about.

In the contest of the best and the very best, the group in detention are up against Gilberto Gil’s Gilbertos Samba Ao Vivo, Angelique Kidjo’s Sings, Anoushka Shankar’s Home as well as Music From Inala, by Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Ella Spira and the Inala Ensemble.

But the music video from the setting of Lucius Banda’s Cell 51 did not have to be another vindication of Nyamalikiti Nthwatiwa’s Tikudikira Mzungu.

Did it have to take the coming of Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan and his wife, Italian filmmaker and photographer Marilena Delli to put the detention story on the CD?

Every time free beings visit the detention sites for ‘authorised events’, they are bombarded by melodic songs that do not just confirm that the inmates are human beings like any other.

So captivating are the cut-off voices that a journalist recently asked a regional spokesperson for prisons: “Why haven’t they recorded an album?”

The answer: “They need special permission from above.”

Such are security checks that you cannot unleash a camera or any other recording gadget without hearing a warder threatening to confiscate it or to arrest you.

Six Degrees arts pages quote the makers of the Zomba Prison Project as saying they were threatened with detention having been spotted taking photos in a cell.

Someone had to dare the system to bring out the new perspectives of people grappling with inhumane conditions of Zomba, a death trap long neglected.

Persistent talk of “permission from above” or “security matters” does not denote an outright NO.

Sadly, Malawians are either shy to use the due process to their advantage or darn devoid of any idea worth the try.

This phobia to seek necessary permits partly explains why the citizenry seemed anxious to follow live coverage of the murder trial of paralympian Oscar Pistorius in South Africa, but seemed contented to wait in the cold, outside and around radio receivers as Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda read the verdict of a case that defined a presidential election in which they had taken part and remained an interested party.

This apathetic attitude is appalling.

However, the project in the frame for a rare Grammy Award portrays a lot of spectacles that came short of telling Malawians “Happy World Human Rights Day” yesterday.

In the thick of humanity canned in unsanitary confinement, viewers of the music videos encounter unsettling sights of under-five children locked in together with robbers, murderers, rapists and convicts of all manner. n

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