…Majek Fashek (1963 – 2020)
By Prisca Sam-Duru
I remember one Sunday in 1989 when I went on an outing with a friend and his family. It was my first time visiting the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. That was the period when the National theatre was truly a culture and entertainment edifice, before it became a shadow of itself.
The space bubbled with lots of activities among which was a live concert by the reigning reggae king, Majekodunmi Fasheke, best known by his stage name, ‘Majek Fashek’ (March 1963 – June 2020).
Somehow, I was captivated by what I regarded as a beautiful bold belt strapped between the singer’s black top and tight fitting trousers. He appeared radiant! I kept admiring that rather than paying full attention to his performance. Incidentally, a chance came for me to move closer to get a clearer view of the belt that got my attention arrested for too long. It happened that my friend’s three nephews, who were with us, all had dreadlocks; neat, black and beautiful dreadlocks, I still remember. It got to a point in the show and Majek requested the three children be brought on stage to celebrate the identity (dreadlocks) he shared with them.
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That was the opportunity I had to go closer. Lo and behold, it wasn’t a beautiful bold belt as I earlier thought, but the fair skin of Majek Fashek!
Majek Fashek was handsome, easy-going, brilliant and the King of reggae music of the 1980s and 1990s. He was a fantastic singer. His vocalisation was arguably the best in his time. His lyrics were something else and his rhythms, exceptional. The reggae music singer and performer was a star among stars of his period.
He was such a fantastic reggae star such that nobody doubted his ability to fall in line with great reggae icons such as Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley), Peter Mcintosh (Peter Tosh), Jimmy Cliff and others “who led the world of pop music into deep fanatical fervour for reggae and to some extent, Rastafarianism”.
Even before his revolutionary hit album of 1988, ‘Prisoner of Conscience,’ which contained the evergreen track, ‘Send Down the Rain’ from which he earned the name, Rainmaker, it was already obvious that Majek Fashek was destined for limelight and greatness considering his dazzling talents.
Prior to his rising to the status of a singer, songwriter, guitarist and occasional film actor, Majek Fashek was a choir member in an Aladura church in Benin City, Edo State. There, he studied how to play the trumpet and guitar and compose rhythmic songs for congregational worship sessions. He later rose to become a local star in the city where he made regular appearance in a weekly television program during the early 1980s.
At the end of his involvement with Jaztix, the rave band of the era in Benin, he evolved into a bigger stature. He thereafter, left Benin City for the Nigerian music mainstream in 1988 and began his solo recording and performing career. He later moved to Onitsha, Anambra State and got signed-on by the then leading music recording company, Tabansi. Under Tabansi Records label, he became Nigeria’s most sort-after reggae artiste from his debut.
His 1988 debut release, ‘Prisoner of Conscience’, which had ‘Send Down the Rain’, earned him six awards which included, ‘Album of the Year’, ‘Song of the Year’ and ‘Reggae Artiste of the Year’. These awards immediately pushed him to front row with local and international music aficionados paying keen attention.
After the debut, Fashek recorded two other big hit albums, ‘ I & I Experience’(1989) and ‘So Long, Too Long’ (1991). As a result, he received an invitation to tour North American under the Tabansi label.
From Tabansi Records, he moved on to very remarkable global music labels and was signed to CBS Nigeria after which he joined the reputable Interscope Records label, where, in 1992, he released the album ‘Spirit of Love.’ The label later dropped him in 1994, at the early stage of his health challenges.
In 1994, he released ‘The Best of Majek Fashek’, a remix of Bob Marley’s hit number, ‘Redemption Song’. Majek’s version of Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ was so rich and peculiarly rhythmic, stuffed with chants and engaging drumbeat bridges that endeared him to music lovers across the globe. He later identified the late Jamaican reggae legend, Bob Marley as his musical influence along with the deceased American guitar-trotting jazz act Jimi Hendrix, as well as late Nigerian Afrobeat king, Fela Kuti.
In addition to his unique rhythm, there are deep philosophical declarations and mystique in his lyrics. This is noticed, for instance, whenever the track ‘Send Down the Rain’ is played, it rains.
Not very many people knew him as a screen actor. But Majek played a supporting role in the 2000 Nollywood movie titled, ‘Mark of the Beast’. He also starred in a commercial for a non-alcoholic beverage. Ironically in 2015, news regarding his bankruptcy and battle against a hard drug addiction filtered the air. He was said to have enrolled into a rehabilitation centre in federal capital territory, (FCT), Abuja.
Sadly, the last decade of the reggae star was flawed by tales of drug addiction, divorce, penury, false rumours of death. Irrespective of all this, the Rainmaker appeared resilient in his determination to keep creating good works but bowed to death during the rains, when things fell apart.
It is believed that the place which he attempted describing in the lyrics of one of his songs; “No more sorrow…no more weeping….no more crying…no more pain”, is where he is today.
The reggae icon, Majek Fashek wrote his name in the sands of time and it will be impossible to erase his imprints on the global music stage.