By Bless Zoshe* on special assignment to Buffalo, New York, USA
|Some Cameroonians in the USA paying their last respects to departed hero Lapiro de Mbanga|
Hundreds of mourners from across the USA and beyond converged on the Lombardo Funeral Home in Buffalo, New York, March 28-29, 2014, to bid farewell to one of Cameroon’s most celebrated musicians,
Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo artistically called Lapiro de Mbanga, who died on Sunday, March 16, 2014, at the Rosewell Park Cancer Institute of Buffalo, NY, after a long battle with the disease,had willed that his body be cremated in the USA,and not returned to his native Cameroon,where he had said authorities mistreated him. He died in the USA where he was granted asylum.
Officiating at the funeral mass at the St Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church, Williamsville, NY, was Fr David Richards,who likened LAPIRO to the Biblical boy, who selflessly offered five loaves of bread and two fish, for Jesus to miraculously feed the crowd. The prelate explained that just like the boy, LAPIRO gave his all, and suffered horrendous conditions in prison, fighting for justice, and for the poor in Cameroon. While expressing sympathy to the bereaved family, Father Richards urged all to make relevant contributions through which Jesus can perform miracles.
Speaker Celestin Monga,a Cameroonian, saluted LAPIRO’s courage and consistency, in the line of political opposition even before the advent of multi-partysm in Cameroon. While citing other fallen heroes like Pius Njiawe and Mongo Beti, Monga he said “It is ironic that LAPIRO spent all his life fighting for his people, but ended up so far away. However, this is ultimate justification of his dedication to the struggle, and it is my hope that his children and the entire family will keep the legacy of his contribution to the quest for freedom, and democracy in Cameroon and Africa. LAPIRO will never die, especially in the consciences of those who persecuted him”.
To former CRTV ace journalist, Hurbert Boh, the deceased was more than just an artist, but a fighter who proved to Cameroonians that freedom was attainable. “I will not speak of him in the past tense; he lives, because he will never die. That’s how great people go. They die, but never die. LAPIRO will live in our conscience, he will live in the services he has rendered to our country and to our people, he will live in the freedom he has fought for us. The contribution he brings as a musician, as someone raising awareness, was a one-man army; taking down the one-party system, and causing Cameroonians to realize that freedom was attainable. But better than that, he went out and fought for it. He went out when the moment was called for”.
Speaking of the millions of fans across the world, Boh added that “LAPIRO has given them the vacuum, and they have to fill it. They have to make sure that what he fought for, we can accomplish it, working together. It is everyone’s responsibility to mobilize forces as we go along. We will not get this liberty on a Plata of gold; we will have to work for it. LAPIRO showed us, a luta continuum”.
Beyond the musical and political spheres where LAPIRO will always be remembered for, the artist also inspired those of the literary world, such as Bate Besong and Dr Joyce Ashuntangntang.Dr. Joyce Ashuntantang lamented the loss of an icon, whose works she had successfully integrated into her teaching program for Graduate students at the University of Hartford, USA.
Also present to pay tribute to the fallen hero were fellow artists like Jacob Nguni and Amisa Asima, who worked with, and remembered LAPIRO as someone who stood for, and died for the truth. To Amisa Asima, “LAPIRO was the voice of the voiceless. He spoke for the down-trodden, and despite the fact that he is gone, he still will live forever because those of us who are left, have learnt a lesson; you need to speak out. As an artist, I will miss his inspiration. LAPIRO was an animator. We have missed LAPIRO just like Charles Ateba Eyene who spoke the truth, and he too is dead”.
To some fans and Cameroonians from the Washington D.C metro area, making a 16 hour bus trip to and fro Buffalo, New York, was worth the pains. To one of the leaders of a close to 50 man ACCDF delegation from the DC area, Christmas Ebini, LAPIRO was “one of the most relevant Cameroonians of his generation“. To another fan, Kenneth Ndeh, the passing on of the artist marks “a great loss of originality in Cameroonian music”.
Unfortunately, the mortal remains of LAPIRO de Mbanga was cremated on Saturday, March 29, in Buffalo, NY; thousands of kilometres away from his beloved Mbanga, and out of sight of his millions of “complices”, “sauveteurs” and “bend-skineurs” across Cameroon, who would have wished to take one last look their hero. Sources say it was LAPIRO’s wish that his body be cremated, rather than repatriated to Cameroon. Meanwhile, another event to celebrate the life of “Ndinga Man” has been slated for Friday, May 2, in Washington DC.
Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo, aka LAPIRO de Mbanga was born on November 3, 1957, in Mbanga, Littoral Region of Cameroon. He began his musical career as a guitarist in the early 1970’s, and became a household name after the release of many albums with “provocative” lyrics in French and broken English. His songs are highly critical of the present regime, but appealed to, and reflect the plight of the ordinary Cameroonian. This earned him a three year jail term from 2008 to 2011. In 2012, LAPIRO de Mbanga and his family relocated to Buffalo, New York, USA, where he immediately started undergoing treatment for a cancer, which had allegedly begun during his jail term in Cameroon.
“Ndinga Man” lost his long battle with the disease on March 16, 2014, leaving behind his wife Louisette Noukeu, his kids, and the music world to mourn him. He will always be remembered for his unique lyrics and style, in albums like: “No Make Erreur”, “Constitution Constipe’e”, and his most recent, “DEMISSIONNER”.
* Bless Zoshe is a Cameroonian journalist currently living in the USA