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Démissionnez! A call for President Biya to step down: A review of Lapiro’s latest musical composition

Saturday 12 January 2013

Peter Wuteh Vakunta

2013-01-09, Issue 612

There is no question that the new song is a rap on the face of President Biya by a valiant dissident musician who views the Cameroonian leader as undeserving of the public office he holds

If, up to a certain point, songwriters have to convey the aspirations of their people, the situation of Lapiro de Mbanga is peculiar in that for him freedom of expression is not a given. Engaged as he is in combating corruption, abuse of power, dereliction of duty, tribalism, misgovernment, and governmental impunity in his native land, this musician has created his own language, a lingo that thinly veils the vitriolic diatribes he constantly fires at the powers-that-be in Cameroon. In contexts where the tenets of democracy and fundamental freedoms are flouted with impunity, songwriting harbours more thorns than roses.

Lapiro de Mbanga wears the shoe and knows where it pinches. As this analysis indicates, he resorts to music not only as a medium for expressing his political militancy but also as a tool of resistance. He has been branded Cameroon’s version of Fela Anikulapo by friends and foes alike for his oralized dissidence. He has distinguished himself as one who is not afraid to tell those at the helm in Cameroon that they are messing up the country they purport to govern; that their modus operandi has brought more grief than bliss to the Cameroonian people.

Shortly after his release from the New Bell Maximum Security prison in Douala where he spent three years on trumped-up charges, the veteran musician composed a song titled ‘Démissionnez’ or ‘Step down’ in which he urges President Paul Biya to step down from his position. According to Lapiro de Mbanga, Biya has failed miserably as president of Cameroon for 30 years and should save face by relinquishing power without fuss. The following review of ‘Démissionnez’ is an attempt at unraveling the leadership conundrum in Cameroon as expressed in Lapiro’s latest musical composition.

‘Démissionnez’ is Lapiro’s last ditch battle with the Biya regime before his exile to the United States of America where he now lives with his family. Like his mentor, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, he comes out smoking armed with a volley of aphorisms like this one: ‘Ce qui ne tue pas l’homme le rend plus fort/ Un animal blessé doit être achevé sinon gare à toi lorsqu’il va charger.’ This is probably Lapiro’s way of telling President Biya that every dog has its day. In other words, Biya may run but he cannot hide. It is important to underscore the fact that ‘Démissionnez’ is a multi-vocalic piece featuring Valsero, and a bunch of other resilient Cameroonian budding musicians such as Awilo whose defiant voice you hear as follows:

Lapiro be dong tok all,
Jess no, yi must kale daso begin nye,
Yi be dong tory wuna bible,
Na chapter dis!

What Awilo is saying is that Lapiro had said it all. Right now, all he has to do is sit down and watch events unfold. He claims that Lapiro speaks like the Bible and describes “Démissionnez” as a chapter taken out of the Bible according to St. Lapiro: “Na chapter dis!” In other words, this is a chapter from his Bible!

In typical Mboko style, “Démissionnez” opens with a loud-sounding announcement of Lapiro de Mbanga’s return to the musical scene after three years of incarceration:

Ça c’est le grand retour de
Lapiro de Mbanga!
Le Ngata man!
Vous allez danser aaahhh!
Ça s’annonce!
According to the Bible,
All man must youa ngata!
According to the Church weh
Yi dong be for dis world—
Association des bandits!

Lapiro’s song is somewhat prophetic about the fate of the powers-that-be in Cameroon considering the fact that he predicts the eventuality of seeing the bigshots, including the head of state, incarcerated in the not too distant future: “According to the Bible/All man must youa ngata!” This prophecy is coming true, what with the incarceration in Kondengui of Biya’s former ministers like of Hamidou Marafa, Ephraim Inoni, Atangana Mebara and Titus Edzoa among others?

We cannot gloss over the question of language choice in Lapiro de Mbanga’s recent musical composition. The Mboko-type Pidgin English that he speaks in this song is remarkably germane with his targeted audience — the rank and file. It is for this reason that the musician opts for a word like “ngata” instead of “la prison.” Sauveteurs, bendskinneurs, taximen, feymen, wolowoss and more are prone to using this word in lieu of its more conventional alternative “prison”.

To put this differently, Lapiro de Mbanga’s diction remains in synchrony with the speech mannerisms and patterns of the people whose plight he bemoans in his song. Another striking feature in his diction is language mixing. The stanza above is a mix of French and Pidgin English. A foreigner listening to Lapiro’s song will draw a blank and begin to wonder why the singer opts for linguistic pluralism. Lapiro’s French becomes less and less standardized as he continually draws from several local registers. He effectively uses the interplay of several codes — standard French, Pidgin English, and indigenous languages —as an artistic device for not only foregrounding the idiosyncrasies of his compatriots but also for evaluating their relationships to one another.

This leads to the conclusion that “Démissionnez” is a hybridized song that requires listeners to be not just bilingual but also multilingual in order to successfully unravel the latent meanings embedded in the singer’s lexical choices. This study enables us to appreciate not just the particular importance the songwriter attaches to linguistic innovation as an artistic device but also the cultural hybridity that serves as the substructure on which the song is composed.

This entire album is woven around a soccer metaphor in which Lapiro attributes to President Biya the triple roles of selector, coach and captain:

Na you be sélectionneur, coach and capitaine joueur,
Na you di mek classement for ndamba,
Na you be préparateur physique, soignant
Ana na you be alamigu for da you own sia Manchester.

However, no sooner has he painted Biya as a leader who tries to multi-task than he starts to blast him on his monumental shortcomings as this except seems to suggest:

Trente ans de championnats
You dong composé équipes
Wuna dong buka ndamba for all kain kain stade…
Sep so, soso défaites because of over boum! Boum!
Kondre man, ndamba no be boum! Boum!
Ndamba na sense!
Ndamba na sense ancien répé

Ndamba na sense ancien répé,
No be tchouquer! Tchouquer!

There is no question that “Démissionnez” is a rap on the face of President Biya administered by a valiant musician who views the Cameroonian leader as undeserving of the public office he holds. It is for this reason that Lapiro does not mince words in calling upon Biya to do the right thing by stepping down:

Démissionnez! Démissionnez!
Démissionnez! Démissionnez!
Ils ont été dépassés-eh!
Ils ont voulu libérer-eh!
J’ai refusé; j’ai dem les bêtises!
Lapiro! Lapiro! Lapiro!
The very, very!

As Lapiro sees it, soccer teams lose because their captains are inept. By the same token, he puts the blame for the retrogression of Cameroon on the shoulders of Paul Biya, the team captain, as the lyrics in the following excerpt suggest:

If joueurs dem di mouiller-oh
Leke na coach go pay!
If youa équipe ndima, ndima–oh!
Leke na coach musi go!
If youa joueurs dem di njoum, njoum-oh!
Like na coach dem go massacrer.
If youa équipe na soso défaite-oh!
If youa joueurs dem di mouiller-oh,
Leke na you musi go!
If youa équipe na distributeur des points-oh!
If youa joueurs dem na loss sense-oh!
Leke na you dem go massacrer.
Loss sense!

Lapiro chooses his words very carefully in a bid to transmit important messages to his audience as seen in the foregoing lampoon on Biya’s ineptitude and dismal failure in statecraft. The songwriter believes that the problem with Cameroon lies with its leaders. Leadership crises have produced the skeletal Cameroonian nation that the world has become accustomed to nowadays. Yet President Biya and his cohorts make believe that there is nothing wrong with Cameroon. Lapiro finds this governmental half-truth irksome and deems it necessary to denounce as follows:

You fall for ngombe…
You mek leke say you no ba yia.
You give me da coup de tête weh
You be take sichia Eric Chinje because
You be get ma macabo since yia ba yia.
And how I dong go bata moua
You nye for da affaire for constipation for constitution,
You dong profité for émeutes 2008
You send tapi for ma sai,
I go boulot njo ngata for three yia,
I bambe chaîne, ana I nang for cédé.

This song harbours seeds of a revolution judging by the defiant tone of the songwriter. It is also a remembrance of some interesting historical moments in Cameroon. Lapiro takes listeners on a walk down memory lane. Cameroonains would recall that many years ago, Mr. Biya, in his usual cavalier manner, told Cameroon’s ace journalist, Eric Chinje, during an interview that he could be fired based on nothing but the whims and caprices of the head of state. This threat will be remembered by most Cameroonians living at the time as “le coup de tête du Président Biya”, which could be translated as “President Biya’s nod”. Another historical event that is referenced in this song is the 2008 uprisings in the major cities of Cameroon.

Lapiro de Mbanga flexes his muscles energetically as he wags his symbolic finger in the face of President Paul Biya, as these lines indicate:

Donc you musi sabi sei popo you
You dong chercha and you dong trouva
And you musi supporta!
For da supporta, you musi tie heart
You chop maîtrise because say,
Comformement à l’article 19 for Charte internationale
Des droits de l’homme,
Ana according to the motion de soutien
Ana appel du peuple way ma complice dem
Dong geep me, I go spit fire jess now leke dragon, Kwaah!

It is interesting how Lapiro resorts to figures of speech such as similes to elevate himself above the level of the ordinary Cameroonian. When he equates his diatribes against Biya to the fire-spitting of a dragon, it becomes self-evident that Lapiro situates himself in the realm of the superhuman. It is for this same reason that he hyperbolically describes his vendetta against the Beti-led regime in Yaounde as a tsunami:

Na tsunami I di déclencher for dis heure
I no geep kong l’heure!
Popo me I sabi say dis tour
No be na ngata again,
Na for deme me en direct
Ana I day prêt for meng.

Words of defiance, indeed! Lapiro makes it abundantly clear that he is not scared by death. In fact, he says he is ready to lay down his life for the common good: “Ana I day prêt for meng.” He further points out that he has sworn to wage the war against corruption in Cameroon from time immemorial:

De toutes les façons
I be dong prêté serment from yia by yia say
I go domo, donc camarade combattant Pius Njawe
Maître Mbami Augustin
A luta continua!

Lapiro’s declaration of war against the cancerous regime of Paul Biya is ominous: “A luta continua!” This resonates with the attitude of a defying indefatigable combatant primed to do battle with adversaries till doomsday. The football metaphor used by Lapiro constitutes the single most effective trope he employs to cast aspersions on the lame duck government of Paul Biya, a man held in contempt by the generality of Cameroonians. It is interesting to note that Lapiro brings the head of state from the pedestal of his ivory tower to the level of the rank and file. Listen to the manner in which Lapiro addresses the president:

I say hein wuoh, dat équipe for Lions Indomptables
Wei you dong nuong for Besie for Kondengui
Ana for Besie for New Bell
Wei na popo you dong formé yi,
Yes, na you be Sah for da équipe
Nationale de sheeba
Na you di recruiter joueurs
And na you di make dem licenses.
Na you be sélectionneur,
Coach and Capitaine joueur,
Na you di make classement for ndamba

This stylistic device may not make sense to folks who do not understand the game of soccer. However, Lapiro’s recourse to soccer jargon makes perfect sense to the people of Cameroon for whom football has become a national ‘religion’ of sorts. It should be noted that the word “wuoh” called from the native tongues of the grasslands people in the Northwest Region translates to a relationship of camaraderie. However, used derogatorily as Lapiro does in this song, the word takes on a different signification—one of contempt. Lapiro lambastes the Cameroonian head of state for his predilection for power monopoly: “Na you be sélectionneur/Coach ana Capitaine joueur/Na you di make classement for ndamba”. In other words, Paul Biya is the selector, coach and capitain. He sorts out players for matches which often result in defeat! It is on this count that Lapiro describes Biya’s team as “youa own sia Manchester.” He reminds the president that for thirty years he has been unable to win a single match:

Trente ans de championnats
You dong composé équipes
Wuna dong boka ndamba for all kain stade
Sep so soso défaite because of over boum! boum!
Kondre man, ndamba no be boum! boum!
Ndamba na sense!
Ndamba no sense, ancien répé
No be na boum! Boum!

Lapiro’s intent is to draw the attention of the public to Biya’s usurpation of power from the judicial and legislative branches of government in Cameroon. Biya has silenced Cameroon’s judges and Members of Parliament who remain at his beck and call as the following lines indicate:

For réglement intéreiur for you démocratie avancée à grande vitesse Pouvoir exécutif, pouvoir judiciaire ana pouvoir législatif Na you di flotter; sotai you dong take Président for Assemblée Nationale you make garçon de courses way you di commissionner For sei yi go représenter you mbout événements for nassah pays dem.

Undaunted as ever, the defiant musician does not mince words in calling upon the Cameroonians head of state to step down because he has not only failed the Cameroonian people but has also tinkered with the national constitution abusively in order to stay in power:

Step down! Démissionnez!
Because you dong over massacré constitution…
You dong over échouer
Subordination for pouvoir judiciaire
Way politique di manoeuvrer witi ingérence
For inside décisions for justice…
Ana na soso witi da hanhan
You be make me I youa ngata sotai for las heure
Nations Unies commot lookam ton rouge forseka Ndinga Man…

Lapiro argues in his lyrics that suppression of the judiciary by the executive branch of government has resulted in manipulation and interference by the executive branch in the interpretation of the letter and spirit of the law. It is clear that abuse of power is the leitmotif that runs through Lapiro’s songwriting.

The singer bemoans the sad fate of his compatriots who have to live in perpetual fear on account of generalized insecurity as the following lines seem to suggest:

Insécurité généralisée
De ngenge dong hala for banque for Bonaberi
De ngenge dong hala for Pont de Wouri
Dem dong massacré you représentant
Chef de terre, Monsieur le sous-préfet ana Kamabourrou for Bakassi
You dong over mouiller!

Unlike some myopic Cameroonians who believe that Paul Biya is a godsend for his people, Lapiro curses the stars that saddled his fatherland with this human albatross on that fateful day of November 6, 1982! His handiwork spells doom for all Cameroonians, Francophone and Anglophone:

Privatisations sauvage for produits toxiques
For société des mbokube way di gee pipo cancer…
Milito and sous-officiers dem dong ton watch nite
For microfinances dem di catch for before long
For ndoh weti cutlass for hand
Braconniers dem di massacrer we phone for mboko
Chop chair for SONEL ana SNEC dem di soso sap quittances
Dem di take ndoh; lumière witi ndiba no dei.
Sapeurs pompiers dong ton SNEC
Sotai na dem di sap ndiba
Yes, na fire brigade dem di spa stone for young for Ngola.

Lapiro tells it like it is; no beating around the bush! These lines are satirical. Public utilities are in a state of dysfunction in Cameroon. The electricity company code-named SNEC, sends out bills to clients who have been living in darkeness for months! The water distributor, SNEC, does not fare any better as the following lines seem to suggest: “Chop chair for SONEL ana SNEC dem di soso sap quittances / Dem di take ndoh, lumière witi ndiba no dei.” What dereliction of duty on the part of public officials on whom it is incumbent to ascertain that citizens are treated humanely and that they are given they money’s worth!

As it is customary in Cameroon, state officials like ministers turn a blind eye to wanton abuse of power:

Ministre for Santé de kop nye
For da cholera way dem di sapam for pipo
Yi di wait taim way dem go sauter yi for Kondengui
Before yi begin publier yi own lettre ouverte for Bra sei:
‘J’avais dit que, j’avais fait que
Je voulais même démissionner, so na so.’
Popo you, you go begin hala sei:
‘Woyoh! Ma woyoh! Ma woyoh!’
Wosai ndiba go commot for mouf you for dang fire?

Note that Lapiro is deriding former Minister Hamidou Marafa who did not read the handwriting on the wall and waited until his boss, Pa Paul, dumped him at the Kondengui Maximum Security Prison in Yaoundé. Marafa is noted for having reacted to his arrest and incarceration by writing a series of weekly letters from his prison cell in an attempt to assuage the wrath of the Lord Mayor of Etoudi. But it was too late! In a word, Lapiro is laughing tongue-in-cheek at those Cameroonians who create carnivorous systems that devour its creators. Lapiro cautions Cameroonian ministers who still have closets full of skeletons to make hay while the sun shines. They should resign without further ado.

Lapiro’s “Démissionnez” is a discourse on the fate of Cameroon’s ‘wretched of the earth,” to borrow words from another freedom fighter, Frantz Fanon (1966). Lapiro bemoans the lot of the so-called lost generation, also called Paul Biya’s fodder for cannon. Hear what their spokesman has to say about them:

Foreseka over ngemeng and chômage
Way yi dong multiplié for dis mboko
Bendskinneurs, chauffeurs clando,
Laveurs de voitures, tackleurs, sauveteurs
Bayam sellams, coiffeurs and coiffeuses ambulantes
For Marché Central, call-boxeurs…
Dem di pointer na for dong rain and for dong sun…
Preuve, dem di kick mberi bébés for maternité for side by side
No be you boulot na sécurisation
Des personnes et de leurs biens?
A vrai dire da wan na échouation totale
If you no fit garantir sécurite sep for nourrissons!

What Lapiro says in his song is so true that one is simply overcome by joy and inner satisfaction. It is nice to have warriors like him who exert their influence on the goings-on in the homeland using the ndinga or guitar. Of course, detractors will always rear their ugly heads to denounce an indefatigable combatant like Lapiro de Mbanga but the fact of the matter is that honest people will glean some truth from what he says in his lyrics. Who would deny the fact the primordial duty of a Head of State is the security of his own people? Yet, in Cameroon, we have a President who is absent both physically and psychologically from the land. He does not even know the people he governs, much less care about their daily safety. President Paul Biya did not utter a word when Yaounde was rocked to its very foundation by the inexplicable disappearance of Vanessa Tchatchou’s newborn from the Gynaeco-Obsteric and Paediatric Hospital in Ngoussou, Yaounde in 2011. Although there is no evidence to suggest that the State is directly responsible for the disappearance of Vanessa’s baby, Cameroon, a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, has a legal obligation to protect its babies and uphold their rights. That is the point Lapiro is making when he says: “Preuve, dem di kick mberi bébés for maternité for side by side/ No be you boulot na sécurisation/Des personnes et de leurs biens?”

In other words, babies are being stolen from maternity wards everwhere in Cameroon but the head of state and his ministers have remained silent. Lapiro’s rhetorical question, “No be you boulot na sécurisation/Des personnes et de leurs biens? has fallen on deaf ears given that Paul Biya hides behind the mask of taciturnity to treat Cameroonians like dirt. He is callous, supercilious and indifferent to the plight of his compatriots. To think that this fellow is an ex-seminarian beats everyone’s imagination!

Another sore point that Lapiro raises on in the excerpt above is the question of chronic joblessness that has transformed Cameroonians into beasts of multiple colors: “Foreseka over ngemeng and chômage/Way yi dong multiplié for dis mboko. We now have a crop of Cameroonians at home and in the diaspora who are prepared to do whatever it takes to make money, including shedding human blood and selling human remains. Cameroon is replete with feymen (or conmen) who are ruthless in their acts of swindling and robbery. Clouds of insecurity hang in the horizon in Cameroon. You have to be suffering from selective amnesia to deny this fact. It is on this count that Lapiro gives Paul Biya a fail mark on his performance as Head of State for 30years: “A vrai dire da wan na échouation totale.”

Based on this lamentably poor performance, Lapiro calls on his compatriots to give Paul Biya a vote of no confidence; he calls on Cameoon’s lame duck President to step down without further ado:

Popo you répé sep sep dem dong rétrogradé you
Say you be daso nomdi, you dong électrocuter Code électoral
Terminator des terminators!
You dong make kan kan classement
Kan kan remplacement
Sep so, soso défaite sur défaite
Donc, no be daso faute for joueurs!
Popo you sep you no well
You musi lep brassa you step down
Dat be say you démissionner
Leke you répé, Grand Camarade
Way yi been ndash you chia,
Ana wei you dong abandonné for Dakar!

Lapiro masters events that constitute the checkered history of his native land. He uses this knowledge to compose marketable musical stuff. There is no gainsaying the fact that the the resignation and eventual death of Cameroon’s first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, in Senegal, and Biya’s categorical refusal to repatriate his remains constitute a sensitive issue for Cameroonian politicians. But Lapiro believes that this important national problem cannot be swept under the carpet. Younger Cameroonians deserve to know what transpired before the advent of Paul Biya to Etoudi. Lapiro tries to provide them with this knowledge in “Démissionnez.” He reminds Paul Biya that the people of Cameroon ‘voted’ him into to work: “Dem dong voté you na for say you gérer.” In my opinion, the word “voter” should be replaced with “voler” because this later word collocates with electoral fraud and gerrymandering that has become the stock in trade of the Biya regime. Biya has kept himself in power for thirty years by having recourse to vote rigging.

Lapiro ends “Démissionnez” by having recourse to scatology. The trope of defecation is used abundantly by the musician as a trope to describe Cameroon as a nation in the throes of moral and physical putrefaction:

You know say if person dammer yi musi motoh…
Sabi say you motoh go beaucoup
Ana yi go over noum
Yes ancien chaud gars
Dat be say you go shit
Over big shit ana yi go smell, hmmm!

What an apocalyptic way to end a song pregnant with meaning! There is no running away from it, Cameroon seen through the eyes of Lapiro de Mbanga is a land poised on the edge of a dangerous precipice.Indeed, Cameroon about which he sings is a country tottering on the brink of annihilation, be it piece-meal. Lapiro reminds Cameroon’s ship captain that he is living in fool’s paradise. He further warns Cameroonians that Biya’s self-delusion harbors seeds of calamity of seismic proportions. Yet Paul Biya continues to deny even the obvious:

You dong las nye da preuves
Way you be been axam say où sont les preuves?
For taim way you dong yia
Say J11 and Brutus Dem di keke you
Sad news indeed, not just for the people of Cameroon but also for Paul
Biya himself whom Lapiro perceives as a potential culprit facing
possible trial at the International Court of Justice:

Gendarmes dem for Brettons Woods
Dem go signer you mandat d’arrêt international
Because you know say if person dammer yi musi motoh…

To put this differently, on the day of reckoning Paul Biya will be arrested and charged for crimes against humanity. He will be called upon to answer questions on the roles he played or didn’t play as the leader of Cameroon for more than thirty traumatic years.

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* Dr. Peter Wuteh Vakunta is professor of modern languages at the United States Department of Defense Language Institute in Monterey-California. He holds three graduate degrees from American universities (MS, MA & Ph.D) He is a prolific writer with several books to his credit. Dr. Vakunta has scholarly articles published in the following peer-reviewed journals: Translation Review 73 (2007), Tropos 34 (2008), Meta 53.4 (2009), Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association (2009), Chimères (2010), Miniatures 58 (2011), Journal of African Literature Association (2010), and African Literature Today 29 (2011). He is a committed family man with deep love for his children. Dr. Vakunta’s hobbies include whistle-blowing, casting aspersions, dancing makossa and drinking matango.

See online: Démissionnez! A call for President Biya to step down: A review of Lapiro’s latest musical composition