While the superstar names recently nominated for a Grammy grabbed the headlines, the most unexpected nominees were a group of male and female maximum security prisoners in Malawi, many of whom are serving a life sentence. The Zomba Prison Project‘s I Have No Everything Here scored a surprise nomination in the Best World Music Album category, and Al Jazeera peered inside the making of the LP.
“The idea had been fermenting for quite a long time,” producer Ian Brennan said of the undertaking. “Wanting to not only to give voice to people who are under-heard or underrepresented internationally, but also to go even deeper into some of the most under-heard and underrepresented people of these populations. My belief is almost everyone is musical and I think that people that are under-heard have even more to express potentially.”
The prisoners involved in the album, which was sung in the language of Chichewa, are behind bars for crimes ranging from murder and theft to “more questionable” offenses like homosexuality and witchcraft. The 20-track LP was recorded in the summer of 2013 and ultimately released in January 2015 via Six Degrees Records before becoming the first album ever from Malawi to earn any Grammy recognition.
While Brennan took on the project knowing it would lose money, any funds raised by the Zomba Prison Project went toward paying the legal representation for some of the album’s prisoners; three of the female prisoners on I Have No Everything Here have been released since the album was recorded. However, Brennan added that is was unlikely anyone involved in the music would be able to attend the Grammys on February 15th.