Music By Prudence BBC Interview

Director Roger Ross Williams' film Music By Prudence, about a group of disabled Zimbabwean musicians won an Oscar on the 7th of March. In this BBC Interview, Singer Prudence Mabhena talks frankly about the harsh consequences of being born with a disability in Zimbabwe and discusses how she came to feature in the short film. Director Roger, explains why he wanted to tell her story. And fellow musician Marvelous Mbulu, join Prudence in Bulawayo to sing us a number down the crackly phone line. Mat Fraser and Julie Fernandez present.
MAT: Yes, it is Oscars time again, listeners. March 7th is when the stars of the silver screen descend on the Kodak Theatre in celebration of quality movies all over the world. And this year, joining the big household names are stars of an Oscar nominated short documentary called Music By Prudence, about Zimbabwean band Liyana. Now, we have two of the cast and also the director on the line now. But before we go any further we need to explain that our two cast members, who is the Prudence of the title and Marvelous are in Zimbabwe, and Roger is in New York. There are lots of different phone systems, there's a big delay, there's a little bit of faded talk. It's basically like when you had to phone your granny in Australia in the seventies, alright? There's a big delay. So…hello guys.
MAT: Hello.
MAT: Hello Roger.
ROGER: Hello, how are you?
MAT: Good thank you.
JULIE: Great. I can't believe we're talking to chaps in Zimbabwe, it's so exciting.
ROGER: It's amazing. It's amazing.
MAT: I think we'll… should we start with a clip?
JULIE: Yes, I think we should.
MAT: And then we'll talk about it. Okay, let's have a listen to a clip from the film.
[Music plays]
Prudence Mabhena and the fellow members of the music group Liyana are delighting audiences on their North American tour. Many members are in wheelchairs and all have special needs.
In Africa people with disabilities live a very tough life because most of the people think that disability is witchcraft. As a child some family members even wanted to starve her to death.
She would even ask my mother not to breastfeed me or to feed me in order for me to die and stuff like that. So it was, you know...
MAT: Wow!
JULIE: It sounds quite a heartbreaking but inspiring story at the same time.
MAT: I personally can't wait to see it.
JULIE: Me too.
MAT: Prudence, I've been reading.. we both have been reading a bit about your life story. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about it. Maybe you could start by telling us a bit about how disabled people are seen in your part of the world.
PRUDENCE: Okay. My name is Prudence once again. I was born with a disability called arthrogryphosis, and I was born in a family of four, I'm the first one and the only child who was born with a disability. Well, in our country most of the time when a disabled child is born people think that may be a curse and, well, with the families it's hard to accept the disability.
JULIE: It's just quite shocking when you think how lucky we are sat here in a studio and some people are fighting for their lives, but...
MAT: Yeah. Roger, could you tell us a little bit about the film?
ROGER: Well, you know, the amazing thing about the film is that despite all of Prudence and Marvelous's challenges and the challenges of other members of the band, they are the most positive, uplifting group of kids you've ever wanted to meet. Their music is uplifting, their spirit is uplifting, and the story tells the story of Prudence's horrible abandonment and abuse, but Prudence never lost sight of that life would get better for her and she always had this positive attitude. And it's so great that now that's all paying off.
JULIE: And from what I can understand, I mean at one point, Prudence, you were living in a garden, you had to crawl on your hands to a mango tree to eat.
MAT: Sleeping in your own urine.
JULIE: Sleeping… yeah.
MAT: How did you cope?
PRUDENCE: I would say that it only is difficult for one to live with a family that does not care for you. And especially when you're disabled.
MAT: Yeah.
PRUDENCE: But, well, I tried to cope. And most of the time what really made me feel better was I used to sing, every time. Whenever I got hurt I would just sing a song, you know.
MAT: & JULIE: Well.
PRUDENCE: That's what helped me most of the time.
MAT: Sure, sure.
JULIE: You know, I know life is relative, Mat, but, you know, at the end of the day we complain because we can't get into a building because of a set of stairs when people are ignoring the law, but this puts a different spin on the world.
MAT: It puts it into perspective doesn't it?
JULIE: Yeah, it does, it really does.
MAT: Yeah.
JULIE: I'm interested, Roger, in finding out how you came across the story of Prudence, Marvelous and the group Liyana.
ROGER: I came across it because a neighbour of mine - I have a house in upstate New York in the country - and a neighbour of mine was a Fulbright scholar in Zimbabwe and I had been writing to her and asking her if she came across any interesting stories I really wanted to do something in Africa. And she had heard Prudence perform and she said, "I just heard this wonderful group called Liyana perform and I think they'd made an amazing documentary." And I just grabbed a camera and within a couple of months I was on a plane and found myself in Zimbabwe, in Africa for the first time, filming Prudence. Yeah, and it all just sort of took off from there.
JULIE: And what did you think the first time you saw the guys singing?
ROGER: Well, the first time I saw them sing, Inez Hussey, who runs… they all go to a school called King George VI School for Children with Disabilities and it's an amazing place; it's a haven for these kids. And they sent me some tapes of the school and of the band performing. And the first time I looked at the tapes I burst into tears. Because it was so powerful and their music is so uplifting, and when you first see them you're like, "oh, it's a bunch of disabled kids singing," but then you forget they're disabled within two seconds because their music is so good.
MAT: Mm. And I bet you never thought as you, like, touched down in Zimbabwe for the first time, that you were beginning a movie that would then become Oscar nominated.
ROGER: I had no I… I had, no. I..
MAT: And it's mega, isn't it? I mean it's big stuff, man.
ROGER: It's big stuff. It's big stuff. I actually saw the film in front of an audience last night for the first time, and I… the minute the first scene came on I… I started crying.
MAT: I was going to say, don't tell us, you started crying.
JULIE: You started crying. Hey, hey, I'm going to be really, really cheeky here. Prudence, Marvelous, can you still hear us?
JULIE: Oh, can I be really cheeky? Can you sing us a little bit of a song? Both of you. He-he, this is so exciting.
MAT: [Pause] They've got to rehearse now haven't they
[Inaudible talking from Prudence and Marvelous, then singing]
[Applause from the studio]
JULIE: Wow, that's fantastic guys, that is brilliant.
MAT: Oh, arr, that was a BBC coup, ladies and gentlemen. That was…
JULIE: The hair on the back of my neck stood up.
MAT: I know. I have to say, Roger, I went to Namibia and there was a school choir that sang when I arrived, and I just burst into tears immediately as well. There's something so… whatever it is, we've lost it and they still have it in Africa.
ROGER: Yeah.
MAT: Yeah. So let's get back to the film. Now obviously the school you were talking about, the King George V School.
ROGER: Sixth.
MAT: Sixth, sorry, I'm not very good at Roman numerals.
JULIE: [Laughing] No, I had a problem with that one.
MAT: That's where Prudence and Marvelous are actually talking from?
ROGER: Yes, they're at King George VI and that's where Prudence went and that's who discovered that she had her amazing voice and her amazing singing ability and they put her in front of the choir and in weeks she was leading the choir and forming a band, and the rest is history.
MAT: And now she's a teacher at the school, is that right
ROGER: Yeah, she teaches at the school, she teaches music.
MAT: Have you played the film - this isn't on the list of questions but I want to know - have you played the film at the school yet?
ROGER: No, no, no, I haven't. You know, no-one except for the voting members of the Academy have seen the film, so until that happens no-one can… it's sort of like under lock and key at the Academy.
MAT: Do they get to go to the Oscars?
ROGER: Prudence is coming to the Oscars.
JULIE: Oh, Prudence, that's so exciting.
MAT: Oh my word.
ROGER: I wish Marvelous were going to be there, but they're all coming for... we're doing a premier in New York at the end of April, so that's going to be a big event, with all the band and the performance.
MAT: I can see Julie's going to ask a question but I want to know, Prudence what are you going to wear for the Oscars?
PRUDENCE: I was told that there is someone who is (sorting?) some costumes for me.
MAT: Oh, I see. Designer.
JULIE: Prudence, people pay so much money to get to the Oscars, you're so lucky! I'm so excited for you. Marvelous, and how are you doing? I bet you're jealous she's going over to the Oscars, uh?
MARVELOUS:Yeah, I'm also excited as well.
MAT: Yeah, of course you are. Guys, we can't thank you enough. I'm still... I'm still high off the singing, aren't you?
JULIE: I am, it was wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us.
MAT: Thank you Prudence and Marvelous in Zimbabwe and thank you so much Roger Ross Williams in New York.
ROGER: Thank you.
JULIE: Take care, and good luck.
ROGER: Thank you.
JULIE: We'll keep everything crossed for you.
MAT: Fingers crossed for the Oscar.
ROGER: Thanks.
JULIE: Take care, guys, be safe.
Mungwadzi Godwin

twitterinstagramI like sharing positive stories about Zimbabweans at home and abroad. I also write articles on Personal Finance, Fashion, Music, and Tech. Let's connect!

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