Last month I had the pleasure of attending Session 3 of The Impossible Music Sessions (TIMS), an organization dedicated to featuring the voices and music of musicians oppressed by their governments. On this goose-bump inducing evening, TIMS featured jailed Cameroonian singer Lapiro de Mbanga.
From TIMS: Lapiro de Mbanga is a popular Cameroonian singer and a 2009 recipient of the Freedom To Create Prize. Lapiro’s songs, sung in a local pidgin mixing English, French, and Doula, have often courted political controversy. His 2008 release, "Constitution Constipée," denounces a constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits and calls on president Paul Biya to step down. The song was banned from the television and radio networks. In February 2008 it became an unofficial anthem of street demonstrations, and in September, Lapiro was sentenced to three years in the New Bell prison near Douala. He intends to take his case to the Supreme Court.
The evening of November 16 at Brooklyn's Littlefield was one to remember. Media from around the world and a concerned NYC audience was in attendance to hear more about Lapiro's plight. Maran Turner, of Freedom Now, Lapiro's pro bono legal representative, and Banning Eyre, of Afropop.org spoke about Lapiro's oppression, and the sidelining of other musicians elsewhere in Africa. Austin Dacy, the man behind TIMS, moderated the discussion. Boston-based Lamine Touré and Group Saloum raised the roof with a stirring performance of the banned "Constitution Constipée," before ending the night with a set of their own energetic music.
And joining us by Skype from his prison cell was none other Lapiro himself. It was uplifting for the audience to cheer him on from NYC; his gratitude crackled over the phone line. We all felt a real connection to each other across the ocean. It was wholly inspiring.
It's been one month since the night, too long ago for me to accurately recreate the evening for The Mantle's audience (I experienced technical difficulties with our videos of the night). So I won't try. Instead, urge you to visit the TIMS and Afropop websites to get a more accurate rundown on the night.
What I can do, however, is share with you some photos taken by The Mantle's very own Jika González (below) and video of Touré's performance of "Constitution Constipée," Lapiro's banned song. At the end of the video, Lapiro, from a Cameroonian jail cell, expresses his gratitude for the honoring in NYC.
Lapiro de Mbanga remains imprisoned; Lamine Touré stands by his fellow musician
Of Lamine Touré and Group Saloum's performance of "Constitution Constipée," (video below) Lapiro declared from his prison cell loud and clear:
Thank you very much. Fantastic! Marvelous! I am very emotional. I liked that version. God bless Africa. God bless Senegal. God bless Cameroon. Thanks to all the people who are making any attempt to make sure that music can be a way of free expression. Constitution Constipée--I wrote this song because in Africa we have leaders who stay in power all their life. And mostly in Cameroon, our leaders want to be in power for all their life span. So I decided to make this song to share the power and that's why I am in jail today.
Austin Dacy and Maran Turner
Lapiro de Mbanga joined by Skype.
Banning Eyre, Maran Turner, and Austin Dacy
Lamine Touré, Banning Eyre, and Maran Turner
Lamine Touré in performance
Lamine Touré and Group Saloum in performance
Against Censorship, AR 2010, Cameroon, Free Speech, Prison