The death of Nigerian singer-songwriter, guitarist and reggae music lord, Majek Fashek, in New York, America threw Nigerians into a nostalgic mood. It brought into memory the exact picture of a musical icon who the country lost to the icy pincers of death. Reports of his passage sauced his strides on the dancehall with near-magical exploits while he reigned. As he scintillated the audience with his hugely celebrated multiple award-winning single, Send down the rain, either coincidentally or through an inexplicable magical realism, raindrops suddenly began to well down from the face of the firmament. Labeled a “prophet”, Fashek went on to become one of Africa’s greatest reggae-influenced performers. His debut solo album, Prisoner Of Conscience, released in 1988, sold more than 200,000 copies in Nigeria alone.
He was exceedingly talented and blessed with a vocal resemblance of another reggae great, Jamaican Robert Nesta Marley, also known as Bob Marley. Majek released some highly rated songs which got his African audience nostalgic of the passage of Marley all over again, and concluding that he could effectively musically fill the void of the Caribbean musical idol’s untimely passage. Songs like the highly philosophical My Guitar where Majek evocatively glamourized the imperishability of this musical instrument, suggesting that it would still be alive, even when heaven and heart pass away, gave the musician a compositional rating of note. So also his re-rendition of Marley’s old spiritual song, Redemption Song, which captured the plights of African freedom fighters and the hope of a great future, in spite of how the contributions of these fighters had been flung aside by rewriters of African history. Fashek however carved out his own unique blend from the mimicry of reggae music that was beginning to come out of emerging Nigerian musicians of the time. Such crew of that time ranged from Terra Kota, Evi Edna Ogholi, Mandators and later, Ras Kimono. His own musical blend he proudly named Pangolo which was decidedly a fine brew of rock and reggae.
He was best known for the 1988 album Prisoner of Conscience, which included the multiple award-winning single “Send Down the Rain”. Also known as The Rainmaker, he worked with various artists worldwide including Tracy Chapman, Jimmy Cliff, Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Beyoncé, and Danny Erskine and he was also the first African Artist to be signed to Interscope Records in 1990 with remunerations worth over $26 million.
Fashek inherited his love of music from his mother, an Edo woman who raised him following the death of his father when he was eleven years old. A businesswoman, who supplied concrete to road contractors, she inspired him through her participation in traditional religious ceremonies where the Olokun rhythms were used to accompany worship of the river goddess. As a youngster, Fashek played maracas during the ceremonies.
While he developed an early interest in the music of Jamaica, Fashek was equally drawn to the music of Indian cinema. Learning to play guitar while in secondary school, Fashek joined a band, Jah Stix, and began playing in clubs in the capitol city of Lagos. Various translations of his name include “high priest who does not lie” and “powers of miracles, the high priest does not live”, and he claims he was born with dreadlocks, the “holy” hairstyle of Rastafarianism. Fashek first gained national fame on a television show in the early 1980s, then toured for many years with The Mandators. In 1987, he began a solo career and quickly became the biggest reggae singer in the country. He also had a very close involvement with the late Nigerian drummer and bandleader Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
His song ‘Send Down The Rain’ was especially popular. He won six awards at the PMAN ceremony and then signed to CBS Nigeria in 1988 before moving to Island Records’ Mango imprint (a label more accustomed to marketing reggae internationally). His first album for the company included a cover version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”.
Fashek’s next album “I&I Experience” was released in late 1989 under the Tabansi Label.
He left Tabnsi Records and went on to sign with CBS Nigeria in the early 1990s before moving to Island Records’ Mango imprint, a label more accustomed to marketing reggae internationally. After that he moved over to Sony Music Record Company. Under Sony Nigeria, he released the album So Long Too Long in 1991. It was included on Putumayo World Music‘s first album.
It was after this stint that he moved over to Interscope Records under the Universal Music Group. His critically acclaimed “Little Steven” Van Zandt produced album “Spirit Of Love” was released under Interscope Records in the same 1991.
In 1992, he appeared on Late Night with David Letterman where he performed the song “So Long Too Long” for the television audience to promote his new 1991 album. In 1994, Flame Tree released “The Best of Majek Fashek.”
Asides music, Fashek also dabbled into other ventures. He played a supporting role in the 2000 Nollywood film “Mark of the Beast” and starred in a commercial for non-alcoholic beverage Diamalt.
In 2016 he performed to an audience of over 10000 people at a comedy show in Lagos to critical acclaim. Fashek was married to Rita Fashek and she served as his muse for the song “Without You.” The union produced four children before they divorced.
Fashek’s drug addiction came into public focus in 2015 when it was revealed that the star was bankrupt. He sought help by checking into a drug rehabilitation center in Abuja and upon recovery, he made a music return.
In December 2016 Fashek contributed the song “We Are Not Afraid” to a video featuring 200 celebrities to raise funds for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
As Fashek’s renown began to spread like bushfire, so also was his rumoured pastime for drug consumption. Gradually, the handsome young man with huge promise of lighting Nigeria’s name on the global musical firmament got enmeshed in drug addiction which began to hugely affect his availability for musical shows and even ultimately, his talent. Between the time he came into limelight in 1988 and the time he passed on last week, Fashek’s active musical years were a mere conservative half of the 32 years that his name was hoisted on dancehall list of notables. In 2015, news of his bankruptcy filled the air which synchronized with that of his admission into a drug rehab centre in Abuja. During this period, the picture of Majek that hopped up in the media and that many encountered when they came across him was that of a man who needed immediate help. He looked haggard, forlorn and ostensibly seriously battling ill-health, alongside a dangerous pastime of drugs consumption.
Friends rallied round him and attended to his hospitaliSation need. In the midst of this, in September last year, rumours of his passage filled the stratosphere, which was immediately dispelled. Those who staved off the rumour however confirmed that he was critically ill and was in a London infirmary. By the time he passed on June 2, 2020 in New York City, it was revealed that he battled, alongside his drug rehabilitation binge, esophageal cancer.
Africa indeed lost a great musical icon in the category of Michael Jackson and Prince and what is worse is that he has been very unappreciated by the Nigerian Government and the Department of Arts and Culture. Majek Fashek needs to be immortalised in a great way.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK