Remembering Majek Fashek, The Reggae Mega Star
Majek Fashek was born as Majekodunmi Fasheke. An all-round great person who loved music and started very early out of sheer will to develop himself learning to play the guitar, piano, flute and other musical instruments to become one of Africa’s greatest multi-instrumentalist. He played lead and rhythm guitar better than many rock artists. Drums, conga, acoustics was a way of life. Then passable keyboards and struggled with the horns. His voice, a musical instrument, was globally acclaimed.
I was privileged to watch him closely in the early 90s at AibTonia Studios, Anthony Village, Lagos during rehearsals for the food and culture fiesta. He was in his late twenties backed by his old and longtime friends and associates Amos McRoy Jegg (bassist) and Black Rice (drums) both of the Jastix Band.
Others on set included Freeworld, Orits Wiliki, Victor Essiet, Kimono, Mike Okri and many others.
Whenever it got to his turn, the entire building usually became evidently supercharged. He was young, immensely talented with good looks and the mien of a mystic. He was the undisputed master of that generation.
Not a few Nigerians will forget the Mass Mobilisation For Social and Economic Renewal (MAMSER) programme of the General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida regime show in Jos, where Majek ushered in the first rains after a protracted drought in the farming community in the Middle Belt of Nigeria. The same thing happened same year in Enugu in Eastern Nigeria when in a period of protracted drought the heavens opened and torrential rains came down his MAMSER concerts singing his famous “Send Down the Rain…” to amazement and happiness of the local communities and the entire country.
The MAMSER shows and its outcome of the rains falling when he sang his blockbuster hit “Send Down the Rain” was a spiritual turning point for Majek. He came back to Lagos feeling like a real Jah messenger and attempted a gathering of Jah people, like a church with followers (mostly dreadlock Rastafarians) called Christ I-men. The experiment didn’t last long as Majek was soon to relocate to America having been discovered by an international label.
He quickly established himself as an African export following his exploits on global platforms like Reggae Sun splash, Jamaica, gigs across Europe, America and South Africa. In 1991 he released another popular “So Long Too Long that sought to raise black consciousness to issues of political freedom. Indeed it became an anthem and open call for black people to rise up and fight racial injustice and oppression that was raging in Apartheid South Africa.
On his release from prison, Mandela requested a personal timeout with the Megastar. The Marleys perceive him as a reincarnation’ of their father Bob Marley.
Majek reworked his music from the traditional Reggae beat as expressed in Send Down the Rain and Righteousness while in Nigeria to a more global Rock rhythm, the Afrocentric ‘Kpangolo’ reggae beat and conquered the world stage with hits like, Majek in New York, African Unity, So Long Too Long etc.
His later decline for some of us that knew was very painful, a situation not unconnected with drug problems. According to my friend and fellow Deltan music enthusiast, Atlanta-based Kingsley Dike, “Bros was at home with his local weed until he was introduced to harder substances, a necessity in foreign studios meant to unleash the best in you, but backfired irretrievably with Bros. E pain me well well, because he still had a lot to give”.
He also recalled his encounter with Majek Fashek in Atlanta in 2003 at a Nigerian party where he performed his old tunes to the joy of his adoring Nigerian fans. “It was a great scene to see Majek Fashek live and his incredible talent and showmanship. Unfortunately, the signs of his health decline were beginning to manifest themselves then,” said Kingsley Dike in a phone conversation on the times and life of the music star.
I believe Majek Fajek talent is a gift from the almighty but his showmanship is the incredible work ethics of his generation. I don’t doubt the Olokun theory of endowment that was propagated at the height of his fame. Majek was too gifted. He wrote his songs, arranged them, took part in instrumentals, voiced them and assisted the producer. Ask Goddy Tabansi of Tabansi Records. Ask Dean Disi of Polygram or Aib Igiehon. Don’t doubt the Olokun theory just as you shouldn’t doubt the theory that linked Victor Uwaifo’s famed musical talent and skills on his endowment by Mammy water spirits!
He was my musical role model. At the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ife musical group AMUS Band audition, all I did was a rendition of the mega-hit “Send Down the Rain” to beat 104 contestants and became the lead vocalist thereafter.
At TUDMONT 90, in famed Oduduwa Hall, Ife, I contested with the likes of Tunde and Wunmi Obe of Turning Point, a University of Lagos (UNILAG) music group, Newton’s Ife Sharp Band, University of Benin (UNIBEN) Time Band, Ife (a faction off my band, with Big Bamo). I was Eruption Band, largely inspired by Majek Fashek with Kingsley Dike and Sylvia Jallo as my Managers. The music scene in Nigerian Universities in the 90s was very promising and this was as a result of the success and fervency of Majek Fashek and his generation of successful artistes like Ras Kimono, Victor Essiet and Mike Okri etc.
They made us aspire to a career in the music industry and Majek in particular would invite you to their Tabansi Records studio rehearsals to see this great artiste perform. He would come around and do some mentoring and coaching on most of the instruments.
He had children with Rita, his former wife. I remember Randy his son, but that’s as much as I know. The music world mourns him and I know this would be a difficult time for the family. But they should be comforted with his tremendous impact for good in the world. His name is tenable everywhere. Many of us will always definitely mourn him and cherish the memory of knowing him, albeit from afar and the lenses of star-struck University students. God Almighty rest his soul in perfect peace. Jah guide brethren.
• Osuya, a music producer was former Manager of Onyeka Onwenu and now a Record Label Executive (Hail Mary Music Label, Asaba-Delta State)