Glorious songs from behind bars
Producer Ian Brennan latest project provides an intriguing glimpse inside Malawi’s Zomba Central Prison
Back in 1933, blues singer Lead Belly was in the middle of a fiveto 10-year prison stretch for assault with intent to kill. When musicologists and folk music collectors John and Alan Lomax visited the Angola State Prison in Louisiana that summer with their recorder from the Library of Congress, they discovered Lead Belly and the rest is history.
It’s not the only time prisons have played a role when it comes to music. Be it the Johnny Cash’s recordings at Folsom and San Quentin prisons, Billy Bragg’s Jail Guitar Doors’ initiative or the many times singers have ended up jailed for various misdemeanors, prisons and music have come together many times.
Experienced and well-travelled music producer Ian Brennan is the latest to find music behind bars. In his case, it was Malawi’s Zomba Central Prison (pictured) which was the catalyst for this project.
The maximum security jail is overcrowded (2,000 people in a building designed to hold 340), many inmates are held for years before trial and harsh, gruesome conditions are rife.
Brennan and Italian film-maker Marilena Delli visited the prison in 2013 to record and document the songs of the inmates. The result is the Zomba Prison Project album I Have No Everything Here, which has just been released by Six Degrees Music. Featuring 16 singer-songwriters and 20 tracks, the album is an intriguing, moving and powerful demonstration of the creative life which goes on behind locked doors. Jim Carroll
Collaborations from the odd to the awful
Today, the odd blend of Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand and US duo Sparks release a collaborative album, FFS (see review, page 12). It got us thinking what other GUBU pop/rock collaborations are out there? Here are our favourites.
Odd: KLF & Tammy Wynette The maverick Situationist British music act teamed up with the American country music icon for Justified and Ancient. The result is a bizarre mixture of acid house and C&W - and check out the video for Wynette’s obvious discomfort in having agreed to take part.
Awful: Ozzy Osbourne & Miss Piggy Yes, it’s meant to be a tongue in cheek version of Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild, but someone forgot to tell Ozzy (or maybe they did and he forgot to remember?), who gives the song heavy metal welly instead of humour.
Charming: David Bowie & Bing Crosby This one always crops up on these lists, and for good reason it’s seriously weird and engaging. The interconnected songs of Little Drummer Boy and Peace on Earth were delivered after a brief rehearsal. Bowie’s reason for appearing on Crosby’s 1977 TV special, Merrie Olde Christmas? “I knew my mother liked him…”
Karaoke: Happy Mondays & Karl Denver Take a 1960s yodelling Scottish pop star and a drug-happy Manchester band, put them together on the band’s Lazyitis, sit back and laugh. Repeat.
Good: Kanye West & Bon Iver In which hip-hop’s most adventurous/contentious (delete where applicable) practitioner cosies up with indie folkster Justin Vernon on Lost in the World (from 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). Subtle - it works!