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The ‘Rainmaker’ goes to Promise Land on rainy day

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor and Chuks Nwanne (Lagos) and Bridget Chiedu Onochie (Abuja)
03 June 2020   |   4:17 am
The moment he appeared, the image of Wole Soyinka’s Brother Jeroboam at the Bar Beach came on. He wore a white soutane with bell in his hands. He jingled the bell like the early morning preachers do.

The moment he appeared, the image of Wole Soyinka’s Brother Jeroboam at the Bar Beach came on. He wore a white soutane with bell in his hands. He jingled the bell like the early morning preachers do. He was a prophet, but not the charlatan of Jero, who prophesied on things that wouldn’t happen in your lifetime until you are on the other side. He was a prophet. The rainmaker.

The country was grey and shadowy when he came on the scene. There was drought in the land. The ‘skies so dark and misty’, he rhymed in his sweet, sonorous voice. He called down the rain with his song, Send down the rain, and heaven listened. Everywhere the song was played, rain showered or fell in effulgent manner. Suddenly Majekodunmi Fasheke became a legend.

Yesterday, “the heavy downpour was like the heavens nodding their affirmation, a clear confirmation that the great Majek has indeed gone on to become a musical ancestor, one never to be forgotten.” The rains bid him farewell to the Promise land.

Although the young boy in the street may not know a single line of his song, Send down the rain, but Majek was a musical genius — A prophet that came at the right time. His timbre was perfect and his music was rich. The lyrics of his songs were often a signature of revolution, which started in 1981, when a protesting on-air personality decided that it was time to end the growing influence of disco music that was spearheaded by America.

With release of his, The Way I Feel Rap, Ron Ekundayo became the pathfinder of rap music in the country. Dizzy K. Falola, rap master LexyMella, Dili I. Jukson, and I.C. Rock were equally popular artistes of this emerging genre.

Between 1981 and 1986, Nigeria was going through its most serious economic crisis and There had been massive job losses arising from drop in oil revenues. The economy had been in steady decline for five years.

The Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) were equally being implemented. Both the rich elite and the poor alike felt the effect of these policies. Reggae music became the favourite genre in the country.

With the emergence of Ja’ Stix or Jah Walking Stick, the domineering influence of disco rap ended, and reggae began its own reign. Majek, who at the time went by the stage name Rajesh Kanal, joined the group Jastix with musicians McRoy Gregg and Black Rice. The trio soon gained popularity as the in-house band on the NTA Benin show, Music Panorama, and toured with fellow reggae group The Mandators. Jastix were also session musicians for upcoming reggae singer Edi Rasta, who would later be known as Evi-Edna Ogholi.

Every artiste that made it big in the genre in that era passed through the Ja’ Stix School – Majek Fashek, Terra Cotta, Ras Kimono, Mandators and Evi Edna Ogholi. There were equally Orits Wiliki, ‘the Coolman revolutionaire’ and some others in the long chain of protesting reggae artistes.

In fact, at a point, Ja’ Stix became the reference point in terms of reggae music in Nigeria. In his tribute, the arts communicator and former Deputy Editor of The Guardian Newspapers, Ben Tomoloju, described Fashek as a front running legendary reggae artist.

Recalling how the artist began and the mileage he achieved through his Kpalongo musical brand, Tomoloju believed that Fashek has paid his dues as far Nigerian as music industry is concerned.

“Fashek served as a music model for upcoming musicians at that time. He was a fantastic instrumentalist. I never knew that he was a more fantastical singer until the Send Down the Rain album came out.

“He was a talent waiting to be exposed. Suddenly, he came out of the blues with the Send Down The Rain. Immediately that record came out, The Guardian was the first to launch it into the mainstream music background, and having interacted with him as a young budding talent, I had to think of a head line before I sent someone to go interview him.

“And that headline was ‘I have paid my dues’,” Tomoloju said. That was a major interview conducted on Fashek, who said that he had had a cognate experience in musicianship even before he released his debut album and

“What else do you want from a young artist, who is coming out with that kind of example offered by Fashek?
“Symbolically, now that he has gone to join his ancestors, we still recall that interview and my tribute to him is that as it was in the beginning, it is now and ever it shall be that Fashek as a front running legendary Nigerian reggae artist has paid his dues.

“He has been a fulfilled, renowned worldwide and I venture to say that among the third leading reggae artist in Africa, Majek has no equal, not even Lucky Dube.”

According to Oritz Williki, a contemporary of the departed musician, “no one can be another Fela Kuti so no one can be another Majek Fashek. You’ve done your beat and the world testifies to that.”

For the filmmaker, Femi Odugbemi, “the rainmaker was the muse of creative people like myself in the early 90s. Not since Fela had a musical artiste seized the imagination of Nigerians and Africans across board. Beyond the music was the amazing energy of his live performances. He was a musician with mastery of his craft. It’s a shame that he has left us so soon but Majek lives eternally, because his music and the consciousness of his message will speak to coming generations.”

The fashion designer, Mudi, said, “Fashek came into the Nigeria music industry and gave twist to it. He launched himself with the iconic track ‘Send down the rain’, which took the entire country by storm. We will surely miss him. The way he ended his life is a good example of what fame can ruin a talent if not well managed. Uprightness and discipline is key to remain focus and maintain fame.”

The rapper, Illblis, believes that his contributions to African music can’t possibly be quantified. “You impacted so positively and spoke for the oppressed through your music. You will be greatly missed. Your legacy will never end,” he retorted.

For the musician, J Martin, “I regard him far more than a legend. As a young little boy, it was amazing for me to find someone with such an amazing voice. I see him as one man God blessed with multiple talents; talents that would do for a generation is what was given to one man. At some point in his song, he was a prophet; he spoke about a lot of things, realities. He was more of a realistic person like Fela, who I regard as one of the greatest prophets of all times through his music.”

J Martin continued, “Majek was someone I grew to love his music. I remember meeting him on one or two occasions. I remember having a conversation with him. He did recognise me, he knew my music, and I was surprised. When I made the post about his death this morning, some people said, ‘no wonder it’s been raining since morning’. Everyone remembers his song Send Down The Rain. I pray that those he left behind, his kids and family, that God will give them the strength to bear this great loss. I knew he must have been through a lot, health-wise, in his later days, it wasn’t easy for him. Now that he has gone to rest, I pray and wish him well; he should rest well. He has done his part and I believe those of us who are left here, would be able to find truth in the prophecies he brought through his music. It’s not just about dancing and vibing to it, but to be able to grab the most important thing, which is the message. He foresaw certain things and he spoke about them. I want to believe that the youth of this generation would look back at his work and make sure they take the messages. When we don’t take precautions, especially when you have been forewarned, history will repeat itself. I wish his farewell.

Deji Dare, a creative entrepreneur, said, “genuinely sad to hear about the passing of Majek. He was such a phenomenal talent. Majek blazed trails and went places very few Nigerian artistes in his time did. He was the first African artiste to be signed to Interscope Records in 1990 ($20 million deal). He performed on the late Nite Show With David Letterman in 1992 — A true musical legend, an iconic hero, a political activist. Majek preached peace in most of his song, just as the world needs peace at this critical time.”

Steve Babaeko, the CEO X3M Music, said, “I remember that he, alongside the late Ras Kimono and Orits Williki, spent New Year’s Day 2018 in my holiday home in Kabba, Kogi State. They were in town for a concert and somehow we got together for lunch in my place. Majek had his struggles like the rest of us but he was a prophet, visionary and one of the most talented musicians to ever grace the world stage.”

Kelvin Orifa, CEO Emblue, formerly of MTN, had these kind words: “Evergreen, timeless, magical these were the words that came to me the last time I saw you at uncle Dede Mabiaku’s rehearsal studio in Maryland, Lagos. You were working on a song together. All I could mutter was “dear God, what a musical spirit’. Majek Fashek you were a global ambassador for African musical talent and heritage.”

The NiGerman artiste, Ade Bantu, said, “death has dealt a devastating blow to music lovers across the globe. The news of Majek Fashek’s passing will need some time to sink in. These days, the grim ripper seems to be working overtime and I feel like I am becoming numb from mourning musical icons, elders, friends and colleagues. Yet we must find the words to try to convey meaning to the life and legacy of one of Africa’s most iconic reggae and music stars.”

To him, “Majek was a gifted vocalist with a rare vulnerability and sincerity in his delivery that people instantly connected to. His voice was sweet and beautifully textured and perfectly suited for his unique style of reggae music that combined Jamaican rhythms with talking drums, highlife and other West African sounds. Its no wonder he took the world by storm and he was quickly signed on to an international record deal with CBS/Sony after his groundbreaking album Prisoner of Conscience.”

Bantu added, “Majek’s career was a rock and roll fairytale of all the imaginable highs and lows, yet he ploughed on with a dare devilish defiance and like the phoenix from the ashes, he would rise more than once again. I kept tabs on him, watching from a distance as a fan; I studied his music and works, and was particularly intrigued by the sound design on his ambitious album project, Spirit of Love.”

He said, “a few years ago, I had the distinct honour of finally getting to work with him on our Afropolitan Vibes concert series where we’d invited him to perform as a surprise guest with my band, BANTU after one of our headliners pulled out last minute. I will never forget the chills that went down my spine when I announced his name and the crowd roared in excitement as they went into a wild frenzy. Once we struck the first chords to Send Down The Rain there was no holding back, as three thousand fans sang the words to his songs line for line for the next 20 minutes.”

It was there and then that I understood the magic and power of Majek Fashek and what he meant to so many people. Millions of lives and stories of Nigerians are intertwined with his songs and messages of resilience and hope. Majek Fashek was a true original in every sense of the word and I am glad we struck a friendship and got to work a few more times. I will miss the affectionate banter and laughter we shared at rehearsals and off stage.”

Chinedu Chukwuji, Chief Strategy Officer, PurpleBlue Entertainment Solutions Limited, said, “it was a shock to receive the news of the passing on of the legendary Majek Fashek. I had the privilege to come close to him whilst serving the collectives for several years. He was indeed a talent and creativity personified. Majek Fashek was not just a true music icon, he was a prophet in every way; using his music, talent and creativity to preach love, unity and togetherness. Even though the “rainmaker” is no more with us, his classic songs will continue to live on in our minds as he has already immortalised himself in our hearts through his music forever.”

In a statement signed by Ayeni Adekunle, founder BHM and Nigerian Entertainment Today and organisers of Nigerian Entertainment Conference (NECLive), the group said Majek Fashek “was an extraordinary talent who blessed the world with a unique version of reggae music birthed by the infusion of special African rhythms and sounds that he named kpangolo. And the world fell in love with him. With his creative genius, remarkable stage presence, deep spirituality and commercial appeal, he redefined what it meant to be a globally recognised African music star. He broke all barriers and penetrated hearts and homes beyond the shores of the continent. Majek’s success in the late 80s and early 90s helped breathe new life into the local Nigerian music scene, and his works continue to inspire today’s generation of artistes and performers. He will forever be remembered not only for sending down the rain, but also for his reign as leading cultural ambassador of Nigerian music, which he proudly introduced to millions of people around the world. While we mourn Majek Fashek’s passing and commiserate with his family on this loss, we continue to celebrate his remarkable life and the evergreen music he left us with.”

Best known for the 1988 album, Prisoner of Conscience, which included the multiple award-winning single, Send Down the Rain, born Majekodunmi Fasheke, popularly known as Majek Fashek, in Benin City to an Edo mother and an Ijesha, Osun State father. He identified with his Benin roots.

Also known as The Rainmaker, he worked with various artists worldwide including, Tracy Chapman, Jimmy Cliff, Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg and Beyoncé.

After his parents separated Fashek remained in Benin City with his mother, and soon joined the choir in his local Aladura church and learned to play the trumpet and guitar whilst composing songs for the choir.

In 1988, shortly after Jastix disbanded, Fashek, who now used the name Majek Fashek, signed with Tabansi Records and began a solo career by releasing the album Prisoner of Conscience and quickly became Nigeria’s top reggae artist after the song “Send Down The Rain” became the most popular song of the year, and in 1989 he won six PMAN awards for “Song of the Year”, “Album of the Year”, and “Reggae Artist of the Year” among others. Fashek’s next album was I & I Experience, which was released in late 1989 under the Tabansi Label, and included the anti-apartheid anthem Free Africa, Free Mandela.

After leaving Tabansi Records, he was signed to CBS Nigeria in the early 1990s and released So Long Too Long. It was included on Putumayo World Music’s first album. In 1990, he was signed to Interscope Records and released the critically acclaimed album, Spirit Of Love, produced by ‘Little Steven’ Van Zandt. In 1992, he appeared on Late Night with David Letterman in support of his new 1991 album, and performed the song, So Long Too Long, for the television audience.

Flame Tree released The Best of Majek Fashek in 1994. He was later dropped by Interscope before moving to Mango, a division of Island Records accustomed to marketing reggae internationally. His first album for the company included a cover version of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. He recorded several albums for various labels since, including Rainmaker for Tuff Gong (1997) and Little Patience for Coral (2004).

Fashek’s musical influences include Bob Marley – whom he resembles vocally – Jimi Hendrix, and Fela Kuti. He was one of the original Nigerian artists to be drawn to the music of the Caribbean, specifically reggae, rather than indigenous hybrids such as fuji, jùjú, but has been known to mix these genres into his own style which he calls kpangolo, and the song “My Guitar”, an ode to his favourite instrument, was also heavily influenced by rock.

Majek was married to Rita Fashek who inspired the song “Without You”; the couple had four children together, but later divorced. In 2015, it was revealed that Majek was bankrupt and battling drug addiction. After admitting that he needed help, he was admitted into a drug rehabilitation centre in Abuja, but has since recovered, and returned to music.

Besides his struggle with drug addiction, other health conditions required Fashek’s hospitalisation on several occasions. He was rumored dead in September 2019 but his manager quelled the rumors, confirming that Fashek had indeed been critically ill, hospitalized at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich in the UK, and in dire need of financial assistance. Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Femi Otedola has pledged to cover all the singer’s medical expenses.

Fashek died on June 1, 2020 in the United States, after battling an unknown illness. His manager, Omenka Uzoma, on the late singer’s official Instagram handle, confirmed his death.