Cameroon’s most outspoken artist, Lapiro de Mbanga finally lost his battle to cancer just as his fight to recoup people’s trust in New York, USA, where he had been granted asylum.
Just 56, Lambo Pierre Roger Sandjo, nicknamed, Lapiro, found fame in the 80s and early 90s by portraying the lifestyles of street hawkers and self-employed youths in his melodic chats.
As fame comes with the temptation of power and politics, he suddenly lost his head and popularity after being allegedly bought over by the regime of Paul Biya he had constantly castigated
Starting his musical career just at the time when Cameroon had its first television station, Lapiro became the people’s pop star.
He moved hearts and gained fans with his frank rhetoric masked in the lyrics of his songs.
With the success of the album, No Make Erreur, featuring Naimro from Kassav, Toto Guillaume, and Jimmy Cliff, the guitarist, eloquent singer was unstoppable.
Lapiro sang mainly in Pidgin, a Creole language, mixing it with Doula, French and broken English addressing everyday problems such as poverty, unemployment, marginalisation, corruption and political division.
The themes of his songs, like in the album, Mimba We, exposed the difficulties, which most Cameroonians were going through, and mirrored their agonies at the time when change was highly, sought across the country.
With the popular demand to end one-party system, Lapiro also ceased the opportunity to enjoy the newly-found freedom of expression.
Using the reputation of his growing artistic career, he made himself the outspoken voice of the voiceless majority.
He spoke for the street hawkers, who toil all year round in hard conditions and harassment from police to make living in a country with very high unemployment rate.
After the launching of a new political party, the Social Democratic Front, SDF, which based its ambitions and policies in the hands of the people, Lapiro, saw that as a spring board to lambast the government of Paul Biya overtly without remorse or menace.
With the re-birth of multi-party politics in Cameroon, and the call for democratic reforms, Lapiro’s support and his millions of fans became the concern.
Political leaders envied him as the man who could galvanise the votes they needed to upset Paul Biya in power since 1982 at the polls.
Pundits of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM also worried about his charisma and energetic fans as threat to the ruling party.
One year into the1992 elections, Lapiro was alleged to have received money from Paul Biya through Jean Fochive, the intimidating delegate of national security.
This undisclosed sum of money was a deal for Lapiro to shush and stop supporting the opposition, and the Operation Ghost Town, that paralysed the economy, and affected the government most.
With such selfish motive interpreted by his followers as disloyalty by the “Moses” they trusted and depended on to lead them to the promise land of change, Lapiro became the hunted.
Lapiro’s weird attitude further angered his fans who created a riot during his live concert in Douala and set aflame his car and nightclub.
Double drawbacks, KO
It was the start of the downfall of the artist who dreamt of using the footsteps of Nigeria’s legend, Fela Kuti to enlighten his people using satirical lyrics to censure the government.
The repercussion of Lapiro’s action further made people to believe that he was bought over.
Apart from being the political figurehead among other party leaders he relegated himself to a mere backbencher, and later went on self-exile on the pretext that people where chasing him.
From 1991, when the allegation was made, he went into an artistic and political limbo. Though, it was hard to prove the allegation, the guilt of his act, seemed to have followed him everywhere for close to a decade.
Only in 2001, did he emerged from his torpid state with another album, but could not sell the CDs nor pull the crowd – a slap in the face for Ndinga Man.
Back from exile, Lapiro could not settle again in Douala for fear to be haunted by the past, and returned to Mbanga, his birthplace.
Accepting a cheap chieftaincy title and bragging with his subjects before returning into politics to vie for the post of mayor never resurrected Lapiro’s lost reputation.
However, with the release of his provoking song, Constipated Constitution, questioning President Biya aim to amend the constitution to allow a president to have an unlimited mandate, Lapiro, did not raise dust but was buried by his own dust.
Whatever happened, before his arrest and jailed for three years for instigating violence, could only be blamed on the prolific singer’s views and actions.
If Lapiro’s fall as an artist stemmed from his involvement in a political chess game, which he had no understanding of the rules, then, it is the very mistake he made to return to politics again.
It is apparently a shame that life caught Lapiro short, but his passing away would be a case study for anyone trying to jumble politics and creative art.
The error he warned his fans in his debut album, No Make Erreur, not to commit instead turned out to be the bait, which hocked his throat to think of himself and forget about his people.