The story of Lazarus, an albino musician from Malawi

I came across this documentary — which was produced by Madonna and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 — embedded in a New Yorker article about something completely different. It’s about a man from Malawi named Lazarus Chigwandali, an albino man in a country where albinos are often treated with fear and suspicion — and in some cases actually murdered or mutilated, since there is a belief among some supertitious folk in Africa that albino body parts can be used in witchcraft.

Lazarus talks about growing up as an albino, and how he was treated as a child, and also how he hopes to help change the way his kind are looked at in Malawi. Two of his children are also albino, as was his brother Paul, who died of skin cancer — something albinos are prone to. While we are learning about his life, we see Lazarus playing his homemade guitar/banjo — which is made out of a box, with some crude wooden pegs, a nail and some wire for strings — and shakers tied to his feet, as he sits on a box in the street.

As he is busking in the streets of his hometown of Lilongwe in Malawi, he is discovered by a music producer, who wants him to record some of his songs, and he gets a new suit, and eventually his song is played on the radio. Now his Instagram shows him hanging out with Madonna and other musical greats. Lazarus says the acclaim for his music has been life-changing. “Before this, I wanted to jump into the highway and have a car smash me and kill me,” he told the BBC. It’s a fascinating story about hope and music.

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