world music

Introducing: Zomba Prison Project

Hello, strangers! It has been a minute since I last posted, but in celebration of Sunset coming back from being down for a few weeks and [gasp!] finally being mobile friendly (I beg you, disregard the fact that I work in digital media and have had a non-mobile friendly website for the past 9 years), I am back! I am committing to writing a longer piece soon about where I’ve been, what I’ve gotten into, my thoughts on life, all that. But for now, I wanted to get back to my roots of introducing you to some music that’s moving me at the moment.

While I was out on a run this morning listening to a 60 Minutes Podcast (yes, I am old, and yes, I admit to listening to podcasts rather than music as I run now; again, more on that later when I share some thoughts on life), I was introduced to the Zomba Prison Project. Before continuing to read this, I recommend pressing play on the Spotify player below to get a taste of what this group sounds like. I was immediately captivated by the familiarity of the instrumentals and — despite my inability to understand one word — the soft nature of the vocals. Sure, the song titles of some tracks are a bit jarring, but without knowing anything more than what the music sounds like, I’d have had no idea what I was about to find out: this entire album is written and performed by a prisoners at a maximum security prison in Malawi.

The album was recorded and produced by Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan and his wife, who set out to travel the world in pursuit of talented artists. If I was a betting woman, I’d put my money on the fact that they were pleasantly surprised when they stumbled across the talent they found at Zomba Prison. Built in the 19th century and designed to hold 340 people, the prison is home to over two thousand Malawian prisoners, most of whom have been given life sentences.

When invited to create music, one woman volunteered and sang a song that displayed vulnerability and sadness of her situation. Following her lead, the floodgates opened, and many other prisoners volunteered to tell their stories via song. What resulted is a collection of stories I cannot translate, but that one can hear the beauty and a mix of sadness and hope in. As mentioned in 60 Minutes, these prisoners turn to music to find an escape, but as soon as the music stops, a harsh reality sets in.

In 2016, this album was nominated for a Grammy for Best World Music Album. While it didn’t win, the inmates at the Zomba Prison were given a cause for celebration. And if you allow yourself to let go of preconceived notions and recognize music for what it is — a universal language of unity — that’s a pretty beautiful thing.

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Acapella group sings Toto’s “Africa”

Acapella group sings Toto’s “Africa” — best part of the video is the first minute and a half or so when they simulate a thunderstorm. Crazy how real that sounds! This is also one of my favorite songs of all time. Probably something to do with my obsession with the continent of Africa and having lived there for a bit.
It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you…

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The Very Best – Rain Dance (ft. M.I.A.)


“Rain Dance” (ft. M.I.A.) – The Very Best

This song is super dope. The samplings are out of this world…remember rain sticks? Got one of those featured on this track along with many other cool sounds. The hook of this song reminds me how much I miss living in Kenya.

Right click here and save this file to download this track.

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Barefoot Skinny – Mambo


“Mambo” – Barefoot Skinny

My sister Emma and I have been listening to this instrumental non-stop. As she puts it, “this is the happiest song I’ve ever heard.” It could certainly be a soundtrack to our lives up here. Beautiful guitar picking by Barefoot Skinny and steady hand-beat drumming. Peaceful and uplifting. Highly recommend checking this piece out. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any free download links, but if you Google search it, you can find it for purchase price.

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Baba Yetu


“Baba Yetu”

I’m not really sure if this is right, but I believe this is being sung by the Stanford Acapella group. Because I’m unsure, I can’t attach a picture…so instead, I’ll attach a little story as to why I’m posting this (other than the fact that it’s a beautiful song). So…there is a girl here at Dartmouth in the same business program who is from Kenya. Turns out when I studied abroad there, I lived about a block from her house. Talk about small world. Anyway…we’re at dinner talking about Swahili, and another girl at the table says that she has a song and was wondering if it was in Swahili. The song was called “Baba Yetu.” So the girl from Kenya and I both say, yes, that means “Our Father.” So we ask her to play the song, and everybody at the table instantly fell in love. After about 30 seconds, we were all singing along to the easy-to-catch “Baba Yetu” lines, planning a campfire sing along performance that we are going to put on when this program is all over. I can just see it now.

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