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Poster for the documentary Lazarus. (Courtesy of Johan Hugo)

Watch the Award-Winning Documentary About Lazarus, Malawian Street Musician Turned Global Music Activist

The musician uses his music as a platform to fight for the rights of people with albinism like himself.

Lazarus. His name came from the blisters and burns he suffered as a newborn on his parents' backs as they worked in the fields. As an albino in Malawi, his parents didn't have any sunscreen or protection—the other children didn't need it. From physical pains like that one to mental and emotional difficulties, Lazarus Chigwandali has endured much in his lifetime and has since dedicated his life to using music to fight against the persecution of people with albinism. You can now watch that journey as a documentary, entitled Lazarus, was made available to the public yesterday via The New Yorker.


People with albinism are often hunted in the region as some believe that limbs, body parts or deaths of those with the condition are magical and to be used for witchcraft. It makes everyday life isolating and dangerous for people with it. The film tells the intersection of three characters: Ikponwosa Ero, independent expert for the United Nations on the enjoyment of human rights by people with albinism; Johan Hugo, a seasoned and reputable producer known for his work with Baaba Maal, Mumford & Sons and in The Very Best; and, of course, Lazarus—his music the connection between all three.


From left to right: David Darg, Johan Hugo, Lazarus, Bryn Mooser. (Photo courtesy of Johan Hugo)


When Hugo traveled to Malawi to meet and hear Lazarus in person, he hoped to at least record some of his music, but he also brought two friends in tow. Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning director David Darg and producer Bryn Mooser. They were able to capture the essence of Lazarus' story, the beauty of his music (which has kind of an upbeat-early-ska-punk-rock vibe with an African twist), the power of his message and his journey from street busker in Lilongwe to music activist performing around the world. It's a tale of darkness and triumph, earning an Official Selection showing at Tribeca Film Festival and Best Documentary Prize at Hollyshorts. Watch it below and stream his debut album Stomp on the Devil.


Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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