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Music

Jailhouse rock makes prisoners' dreams come true

Inmates of Tihar Jail, South Asia's largest prison, give 'jailhouse rock' a new meaning. Prisoners have formed a band and will soon become the first in the world to cut a commercial album from inside a jail.

Excitement is palpable in Jail Number 7 as band members go through the final motions of their roles amid last minute instructions. A final strum of the guitar and the gentle roll of the indigenous tabla drums are played as sound engineers wait patiently. The group is preparing to record its first music album in a roomy jailhouse auditorium.

Members of Tihar idols along with the production team in Tihar jail ahead of their ambitious album launch (Photo: Murali Krishnan)

The band looks forward to the release of its album

The only abnormality here is that the musicians are all prisoners, many of them youths who are serving out sentences for heinous crimes such as murder, theft and drug trafficking. And as they go through the final motions to record their compositions that could catapult them into fame, they realize their moment of truth is nearing.

Tihar Idols launch album

DW got exclusive access to meet up and photograph some of the group members in jail.

"I really can't believe this is happening. After months of toil and sleepless nights we are about to cut an album in jail. This is truly unbelievable," Amit Saxena, 34, a murder undertrial who has spent nine years behind bars, told DW.

The album titled "Jaane Anjaane" (known and unknown), which will be launched on January 28, has six songs, written and composed by the finalists of Tihar Idol, a talent hunt for inmates.

Almost six months ago, Tihar jail authorities launched Tihar Idols, motivated by the thriving musical reality show "Indian Idol." Over 350 contestants and many elimination rounds later, this winning lot has now become the first worldwide one to cut a commercial music album from inside a jail.

A man peeks through an opening of a door to a prison ward during a concert at the Tihar jail in New Delhi (Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/GettyImages)

Tihar holds some of India's most notorious criminals

Joe Vargas, a Canadian national who is part of the group, is the lead guitarist and has managed to learn Hindi while serving out a sentence for drug trafficking.

"When I came to jail I started teaching music to the fellow prisoners. And when this idol hunt started, I started auditioning. Being in such a dark place for such a long time, I see some light even through these bars in the jail after this opportunity," Vargas told DW.

Shivani Wassan, 29, who has two title tracks in the album, said the music recorded by the inmates had an international flavor.

A jail with a human face

"I have found my calling now in jail. Once I get out and I hope that is soon, I will heading out to Mumbai to look for producers who will help me tap my talent so I can become famous and restore some pride to my family," said the outspoken Wassan, serving out a murder charge.

Being south Asia's largest detention facility housing over 13,000 convicts, Tihar holds some of India's most notorious criminals, including terrorists, kidnappers and crooks. But it has started to help transform the lives of its inmates through vocational training in diverse fields. This is to give the prisoners a chance at a fresh start once they are released.

Joe Vargas (Photo: Murali Krishnan)

Joe Vargas is serving time for drug trafficking and is the band's lead guitarist

Jail authorities have also carried out four recruitment drives, convincing banks and private companies to hire nearly 500 inmates for jobs in less than a year.

"I am really proud of this group and I am so happy that music has proved to be the glue that that has got them together. I am sure they will get on to their real vocations once out of this place," says jail superintendent Rajesh Chauhan, who has been personally supervising this experiment.

The inmates are now counting the days until their album is launched and hoping it will give them a better shot at life once they are outside.

DW.DE