As pop culture vultures get ready to watch tonight’s Grammy Awards telecast, a group of incarecerated musicians from the small southern African country of Malawi quietly prepare themselves to possibly make history.
The creators of “I Have No Everything Here,” which is nominated in this year’s “Best World Music Album” category, are the subject of a The New York Times profile published yesterday (February 14). Fourteen inmates and two guards at the Zomba maximum-security prison created the album under the name “Zomba Prison Project.” If the album rises to the top, they will be Malawi’s first Grammy winners.
The music on “I Have No Everything Here” offers frank perspective on the personal circumstances and structural issues that brought its composers to Zomba. For instance, three sisters serving life sentences for murder sang about killing one of their daughters—they suspected she was possessed by a demon. Additionally, one of the guards composed a song about the problem of people murdering others’ children in jealousy-fueled fits.
The male musicians were involved through an authority-supported program that brought instruments into the prison. The program not extended to Zomba’s female inmates, but American producer Ian Brennan reached out to women in the prison and enlisted their contributions while putting together the album. The result is a work that incorporates diverse voices from within the institution’s walls.
Those involved with the Zomba Prison Project will find out tonight if they won the Grammy in their category. The 58th Grammys’ live telecast will stream on CBS and affiliated services at 8 p.m. EST.