Majek Fashek …Beyond the sparkles
Though Nigerian reggae music legend and firebrand rasta, Majek Fashek, may have transited, it is impossible to forget the footprints of the supremely talented singer and guitarist who sang with so much joy into our ears.
His works (songs) will continue to resonate emotion in us, as they spoke against police brutality, fought for the downtrodden, promoted ethnic and religious harmony among other social issues, as he tried to live his name, Majekodunmi Fasheke (Ifa-kii-she-eke) means ‘Let it not hurt me, the Deity (Ifa) does not lie’
Born in Benin City to an Edo (old Bendel State) mother and an Ijesha father, (Osun State) in 1963, Fashek choose to be identified with his Benin roots. After his parents’ separation, he remained in bronze making city with his mother, and soon joined the choir in his local Aladura (white garment) church and learned to play the trumpet and guitar whilst composing songs for the choir.
Contrary to the widely believed notion that the reggae icon career diminished due to heavy drug use, facts on his predicaments emerged as his cousin and former bandmate, Amos McRoy, attributed it to ‘spiritism’.
Commenting on the life and time of the reggae legend, one time Punch Entertainment Editor, Azuka Jebose Molokwu, who at a time was Fashek’s manager in a memo shared with The Guardian pointedly said the reggae legend bestrode the Nigerian music scene in the 1980s, and went by the stage name Rajesh Kanal (Raji Canal), after he joined the group Jah Stix with musicians Amos McRoy (Jegg) and Black O Riz, having been influenced by the Indian pop culture, which was penetrating Nigeria’s entertainment industry at the time.
Molokwu said, “The trio gained popularity as the in-house band on the NTA Benin show Music Panorama, produced and sometimes anchored by late Pogo Limited front man and great musician, Pat Finn. They toured with fellow reggae group The Mandators. Jah Stix also had other reggae music singer, Edi Rasta, who would later be known as Evi-Edna Ogholi. Jah Stix’s formative years were spiritual, spiced with music and sermon.”
“Majek Fashek on arrival to Nigeria’s emerging pop culture of the 1980s, instantly constructed his own freeway of love, affection, turbulence and troubled soul. He rose to prominence in 1988, when he released his solo debut, Prisoner of Conscience, which included the award-winning single Send Down the Rain,” he added.
According to the US-based cerebral journalist cum businessman, “By the end of the 1970 decade, Nigeria’s pop culture, recovering from the civil war, was saturated by musicians seeking fame, fortune and to a few extents, misfortune and nightmare, through a funk-influenced genre of that era’s music.
“In 1979, Eastern Nigeria based psychedelic funk band, Sweet Breeze, a rebrand of the 1960s and early 1970s funk band, Fuel For Love, charmed our music world with a monumental a single hit, Beautiful Woman, from its late entry as a glass of new wine from an ageless bottle- album, Cloud Nine.”
He continues: “In the early 1980s, Dizzy K Falola, Jide Obi, Felix Leberty, Sweet Breeze, Emma Dorgu, Nelly Uchendu, Dora Ifudu, Oby Onyioha, Stella Monye, Kris Okotie, Late Christy Essien Igbokwe, Onyeka Onwenu, Sonny Okosuns, Fela Kuti energized Nigeria’s new pop music scenes. These stars were some of the happenstances in the Nigerian music scene until a strange mystic man arrived from Benin City, with his acoustic guitar and cousin, Amos McCroy, (Jegg).
With the disbandment of Jah Stix in 1987, Fashek, rebranded from Raji Canal to Majek Fashek, and was signed to Tabansi Records, where he began a solo career with the release of his debut album, Prisoner of Conscience and quickly became Nigeria’s top reggae artiste 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.
His next album I&I Experience was released in late 1989 under the Tabansi label, and included the anti-apartheid anthem Free Africa, Free Mandela which sampled Steam’s Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.
After leaving Tabansi Records, Fashek was signed to CBS Nigeria in the early 1990s and released So Long Too Long. He, however, achieved a rare cross-over success in the United States in 1991, when he signed with Interscope Records and released the Little Steven Van Zandt-produced breakthrough Spirit of Love. That effort included his biggest international hit: So Long Too Long (America/International version), an uplifting anthem that opened with the exhortation, ‘Arise from your sleep Africa/ Arise from your sleep America/ There’s work to be done Africa.’
In 1992, the late reggae superstar 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 his Best of Majek Fashek in 1994.
He was later dropped by Interscope before moving to Mango, a division of Island Records, a label accustomed to marketing reggae internationally. His first album for the company included a cover version of Bob Marley’s popular hit, Redemption Song. He has recorded several albums for various labels since, including Rainmaker for Tuff Gong (1997) and Little Patience for Coral (2004).
Molokwu futher explained that the protest and conscious music of Jah Stix was an added flavour to Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s polyrhythmic Afrobeat music, adding that the late Abami Eda, as Fela was also known as addressed, had found a companion group, marinated in afrobeat lifestyle and philosophy, young comrades, additional protest voices through the power of music, expressing and exposing the sufferings in the land.
“Jah stix group became the new crusaders for social justice and equity. Its performance was always electrifying and defining, poignant, sassy and sweaty. Its philosophy of life was orchestrated and anchored by Black O Rize, the spiritual and ideological guardian,” he said.
Commenting on the life and time of Fashek, Black O Rize had told Molokwu in a chat: “I was the spiritual and ideological leader. Amos was the musical leader while Majek was the lead singer of the Reggae Itals as we were known. I refused to be called a band.”
On his part, Amos McCroy explains: “Majek was of a Bob Marley and Jimmy Hendrix creation, Black was of Dillinger and U-Roy personality, while I was more of Peter Tosh and Gregory Isaacs. So we had to weave these personalities together.
“Black was the organiser, Majek and I were the music directors. Our relocation to Lagos changed the face of the music industry; we were involved in every known music project then. I counted over 86 recording projects we were involved in both as a group and as individuals.
“There was Terra Kotta”s 2nd album, we did something with Perry Ernest, The Mandators, Ras Kimono, Orits Williki, Late Isaac Black, Late Best Agoha, Marshall, Evi Edna Ogholi, Andy Shureman, Walka Inni Kamanda from Kano, Lemmy Ghariokwu and a host of others.”
Fame, sometimes, change personalities, characters and behaviours. “Majek was no different. He allegedly became an arrogant revolution. The once clean Aladura choir boy with a guitar and innocence allegedly turned into a famous beast with brutal force and demonic, performing raunchy sexually explicit nonsense on stage and in public,” Molokwu notes.
“Members of his immediate family allegedly surrounded him with fetish spiritual guidance and guardian, to protect the sudden explosion and money-making family messiah. Majek was enjoying the limelight; he was willing and able to find any that came to seek him and easily welcome all to his entourage.
“The groupies increased daily and his behaviours, public tantrums and stage utterances were beginning to change. Majek was also experimenting with marijuana and alcohol. His family also allegedly introduced him to occultism within these periods. After the release of Prisoner Of Conscience, he allegedly began experimenting with Sat Guru Maharaji spiritual sect, Hari Krishna religion and was exposed to the Seven Books of Moses.
“Family sources alleged that during his early years, his late mother would take him to the cemetery to worship the dead at midnight hours and offered sacrifices. He was allegedly mixing voodoos with occultism, wrapped in spiritual mysticism.”
Though Amos McCroy would neither confirm nor deny these alleged observations by family sources, he, however, provided additional insights into the beginnings of a troubled soul, saying: “This happened immediately after the release of my first album: we were returning from rehearsals, riding in his car; one of the female companions asked me what was happening to my record sales.
“She said my album was not making waves as Majek’s, Mandators, Kimono, etc. Majek quickly interrupted her and said: “don’t mind Amos, he doesn’t want to ask me the road that leads to stardom. He thinks it’s a good record that makes one a star. I then slapped his head and asked him which road he passed. He told me in our Bini dialect: “this is not the Majek you knew and grew up with o!
“I did not take him seriously…until December 1998 when we went for a concert in Cote D’Ivoire. I was determined to check his excesses. I hung around him to watch his excessive use of alcohol throughout our concert period. Between 2 and 2.30 a.m while we were watching movies together, he looked at me and said, rather solemnly: “Amos I envy you. The statement shocked me. I asked him why? He said I had peace and comfort and that I may never understand.”
Fashek was rumored dead in September 2019 but his manager, Omenka Uzoma, quelled the rumors, confirming that he had indeed been critically ill, hospitalised at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, London, and in dire need of financial assistance. Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Femi Otedola pledged to cover all the singer’s medical expenses.
Prior to his death on Tuesday, June 2, the reggae legend on February 7, clocked 58 on, but without celebration, as he was far away from the public eye, having been treated at a London hospital for a life-threatening ailment and recuperating in the US.
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