Cameroonian Singer Lapiro de Mbanga Wins Global Award

Photo: Lapiro in prison, November 2009 - Photo by Gen Bell
Photo: Lapiro in prison, November 2009 – Photo by Gen Bell
Copenhagen, Denmark – Freemuse reported that imprisoned musician Lapiro de Mbango is the 2009-winner of the ‘Freedom to Create’ Imprisoned Artist Prize. Nominated by Freemuse, Lapiro de Mbanga – described as an “unceremonial sheriff of the backyards” – was selected “in recognition of his courage and outstanding artwork” by a distinguished panel including world famous conductor Daniel Barenboim and Geoffrey Robertson, one of the world’s foremost human rights lawyers.

The news was conveyed to Lapiro in his prison cell in Cameroon a few hours before the prize ceremony took place November 25 in the evening at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in attendance of international luminaries such as the celebrated Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Time Out founder Tony Elliot and Human rights activist Bianca Jagger.

Freemuse Programme Manager Ole Reitov who is coordinating the Freemuse campaign for the release of Lapiro, called the imprisoned artist and revealed the news: “Lapiro is absolutely overwhelmed about the prize. We’ve spoken about the nomination several times, but winning is something very different,” told Ole Reitov. “Lapiro said that, apart from the very strong support to his case and his family, the prize belongs to all artists fighting for freedom of expression.”

Erosion of democracy

Lapiro de Mbanga believes that music can be used as a strong tool against corruption and power abuse. He has become a symbol of peaceful resistance to the erosion of democracy in Cameroon. Opposing constitutional amendment in 2008, which not only provided the president with immunity from prosecution for acts as president, but even allow President Biya to run for unlimited re-elections, Lapiro de Mbanga wrote the song ‘Constitution Constipée’ (Constipated Constitution), which inspired demonstrations all over the country.

In September 2008, Lapiro was sentenced to three years imprisonment. Sharing a cell with more than 50 persons, Lapiro’s health has deteriorated as hygiene conditions and food are substandard. “But this will neither stop me nor my music,” said Lapiro, who has a long history of voicing the frustrations of the people in Cameroon

Courage and creativity

The Freedom to Create Prize celebrates the courage and creativity of artists around the world, who use their talents to build the foundations of open societies, promote social justice and inspire human spirit. More than 1,000 artists from more than 100 countries were nominated in 2009.

Another Freedom to Create Prize was presented to the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has dedicated his craft to highlighting social justice in Iran and neighboring countries.

Marie Korpe, Freemuse Executive Director, received the prize on behalf on Lapiro. The prize is 25,000 US dollars, which can be used in support for the release of Lapiro and his family who has suffered immensely since his arrest last year.

The motivation of the panel read: “As an ambassador for the freedom to create, his example will give voice to countless artists around the globe who use their talent to create a brighter future for all. Freemuse also represent those artists, some yet unheard of, who are sacrificing their personal freedom and safety on a daily basis in order to make our future brighter for all.”

Ole Reitov from Freemuse adds: “As Lapiro points out, this is also recognition of all other artists out there who are suffering suppression and illegal imprisonment. And Lapiro is still not a free man, so we will continue to campaign for his release together with our sister organizations.”

Only one month earlier, Freemuse received the IMC Musical rights Award for its “courageous global program advocating freedom of expression for creators and performers of music.”

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