The musician with albinism who caught Madonna’s attention

Lazarus Chigwandali

Malawian Lazarus Chigwandali has faced many hardships in life because he was born with albinism but his passion for music brought him international fame and Madonna’s attention.

Born into a family of farmers in Dedza, central Malawi, Lazurus’s parents had five children and his younger brother was also born with albinism. The condition affects the production of the pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes their colour and also means that skin burns very easily.

“Our parents tied us on their backs when they worked in the fields. After a day in the sun, our whole bodies were full of blisters,” he told the BBC.

“We couldn’t afford sun cream, so our parents took the decision to literally lock me and my brother in the house to protect us from the sun.”

When Lazarus and his brother did go out, the other children threw stones at them, thinking they would catch albinism. Because of this deep-rooted discrimination, Lazarus’s brother Peter knew they would never be able to get work like other people in the village and he suggested they forge a path in music together.

They had no instruments, so they made their own and started to get noticed performing in the local village. Sadly, Peter developed skin cancer and died when he was 12. Lazarus was devastated, but decided to play on alone.

Many people in Malawi and other East African countries wrongly believe that the body parts of people with albinism can bring wealth or good luck. People with albinism are frequently abducted, murdered or mutilated to supply this grisly trade. It’s something that Lazarus has witnessed first-hand.

“One time when I was performing outside a mall, a woman came past driving a nice car. She said her husband would pay me to do an album of 10 songs and he’d pay 1m kwacha ($973; £825) for each song.”

Lazarus got in the car to meet her husband and whilst waiting in the car, a maid from the house came out and told him she had overheard the couple making plans to sell him in neighbouring Tanzania. She told him his life was in danger if he didn’t get out, so he ran.

Lazarus’s love for music finally paid off when a passing NGO worker videoed him busking and posted it online. It was shared around the world and seen by a UK-based record producer who then recorded an album with Lazarus, bringing him international attention.

He went on to perform for Madonna and at Malawi’s international Lake of Stars music festival.

“Meeting Madonna and watching her perform was an eye opener in many ways, but perhaps the biggest thing for me is just sleeping in my own house that has iron sheets above my head. That has brought me such a deep joy, it’s unimaginable.”

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