MAJEK FASHEK: HOW MUSIC, DRUGS, JUJU, WOMEN, INFLUENCED HIM AND THE BIG MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
The powerful lyrics of the evergreen song, “Send Down the Rain” that made Majek Fashek the toast of many lovers of reggae music across the world. It also set him apart from other iconic African singers.
The song, which was contained in his debut solo album “Prisoner of Conscience’ released in 1988, was symbolic in different ways. Most times it’s being played or performed on stage, the unusual thing happens- rain would come down from nowhere, and that mystic coincidence earned him the tag of, “a deity.”
Majek then was on top of his career, as everything was at his beck and call. Precisely, the 1980s was the defining point in the rainmaker’s career, which saw him playing alongside the likes of Ras Kimono, Amos McRoy and engaging in extensive tours with the Mandators before he left the Benin-based reggae group, Jastix to release the multiple-award winning album, Prisoner of Conscience, which he launched in 1988, at “Ozone night club”, Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos.
He opted for a solo career and almost immediately, he became the most celebrated reggae star in this part of the world. His song, “Send down the Rain”, was an instant hit, which won for him, six US-based PMAN Music Awards among others and put him on the world stage.
However, in the height of his “reign” in the music circle, he was widely known and addressed as “High priest who does not lie.” As he ruled the airwaves, the doors of almost every higher institution in the country were thrown open for him as “Yo yo yo yo papayo, send down the rain” was, without exaggeration, more popular than the national anthem on the lips of everyone. His shows then were always sold out, as fans would leave their homes as early as possible to catch a glimpse of the iconic singer performing on stage.
In those good old days, the rainmaker would mount the stage in red robes, military boots, with his two hands handcuffed. Of course, there was also a big bell which he rang as he ascended the stage, saying ‘Repent, for the kingdom of Jah is at hand…’
Undoubtedly, Majek was larger than life during the heydays of his career but he lost it after his ugly experience in America. He revered his late mother immensely and even composed a special track for her, ‘Mama De…De… Of Edo and Yoruba heritage’, Majekodunmi Fasheke, aka Majek Fashek, “despite all his shortcomings left his footprints on the sands of time.”
He was once on the label of Tabansi Records, where he left to sign to CBS Nigeria in the early 1990s, before he moved to Island Records’ Mango imprint, a label that was noted for marketing reggae internationally. His first album for the company included a cover version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. In 1990, he was signed to Interscope Records, an American label, and released ‘Spirit Of Love’, produced by “Little Steven” Van Zandt. Flame Tree hit the scene with The Best of Majek Fashek in 1994.
He had released several albums for various labels, including “Rainmaker” for Tuff Gong (1997) and Little Patience for Coral (2004). However, in a manner that’s still shrouded in a mystery to his fans, the attendant euphoria of his rise to stardom was soon to become a mirage and history. Specifically after his successful deal with Interscope, his fortunes headed for the rocks as rumours spread like wild fire across the world that the rain maker was into hard drugs in America, where he relocated at some point in search of greener pastures.
While he disappeared from the music scene, his teeming fans expressed deep concern, regarding his whereabouts, as they also wondered what the ‘Rain maker’ was doing in America when he had all the golden opportunities to make it big in Africa. Unfortunately, relocating to America, and perhaps, signing a recording contract with the Interscope Records, marked the beginning of the end of Majek Fashek’s career and downfall.
Perhaps, while in America, stories were flying around that Majek had fallen in love with hard drugs, thus ruining his once blossoming career. It was also, generally believed that Majek’s downfall started after he returned from America.
US- based Nigerian Afro beat singer, Kofo The Wonderman who once played talking drums for him believed that the rain maker was the architect of his own misfortune, while in America. He reportedly disappointed his record label, Interscope, after he arrived late for a show, he was billed to perform.
In an interview, which he granted in November, 2018, Kofo The Wonderman chronicled how Majek lost a big chance to put African music on the map of world music.
“It’s a very big opportunity for any African artiste to get a major recording deal with an American company. One day I met the vice president of Sony Music and I said ‘sir, can I ask you a question?’
He said ‘yes’ and I said ‘how come you people don’t sign African artistes.’ He confessed that they love African music but if they sign an African act, the majority of the buyers of his music are going to be from Africa.”
“He revealed that every big artiste on the label that are not from America sell their music in their countries. However, African countries don’t have certain trade agreements with the US, so how are they going to make their money with pirates everywhere? The implication is that Jimmy Hiving was not looking for money when he signed Majek Fashek; he did it because he just loved Majek. If it was based on money, he wouldn’t have signed Majek but Majek eventually disappointed him.”
Kofo The Wonderman said he never saw Majek take hard drugs while he was a member of his band back in the United State. “ When I hear people say Majek was taking drugs I am shocked because I did not for one day see him taking cocaine or heroin when I was in the band.”
He continued: “When I joined his band he was not a ‘weed’ smoker, he could only drink half a bottle of Coca Cola and was clean. That was when he would say something and it would happen! Everywhere we went, Send Down The Rain was the song we played last because if we played it first, that was the end of the show as the rain would come down hard. Even Majek Fashek did not understand it so whenever it happened he would express his amazement saying:
‘I don’t know how this happens. God you are great!.’ But all of a sudden things changed. Maybe, he got into things he was not supposed to. I am talking about the Seven Books of Moses, he started doing rituals, slaughtering hens on the streets of New York which could have sent him to jail. And Jamaicans loved him because they were looking at him as Bob Marley. They always followed him around and the only favour they did for him was to bring ‘weed’ for him in the dressing room which he started smoking.”
Explaining why he left Majek’s band, Kofo The Wonderman said he used to look at the iconic singer as a mirror to see himself but when the mirror started cracking, he could no longer see myself well.
“Instead of one, I was seeing three images and I knew it was not good. He was not the same Majek I knew. You see, you don’t disappoint a show promoter in America. Majek Fashek disappointed a show promoter in San Diego. His record label, Interscope, was funding the show. We were not the major acts. The show had other acts like Burning Spear, Tracy Chapman and Jimmy Cliff. All Interscope wanted was for the fans of the other artistes to key into Majek Fashek. He was a new thing to them; they had seen a lot of reggae but Majek was different and unique and they just couldn’t have enough of him.”
“I remember this vividly, the show was everyday and anywhere we performed we were the opening act and we had only 20 minutes. And the newspaper of the next day would talk about Majek and not the headliners. Jimmy Hyvine of Interscope had confidence that the album would hit the world so they were pushing with their money paying us salary, hotel bills, flight tickets and whatever.
How can you disappoint a show like that because of a woman? There is no problem with Majek Fashek following a woman after our show in LA but you have to be time conscious. We left LA after we played and headed for San Diego which is about two and half hours journey and he followed a light complexioned lady and failed to turn up on time for his own show by 7pm. In the middle of Burning Spear’s show he suddenly showed up; that was not good.”
“He lost a big chance for the whole of Africa. He could have opened the doors for African artistes looking for an American break and that was why Kimono, Mandators and Mike Okri all came to America. They were like ‘if Majek Fashek can have it, maybe we can also have it’ but Majek Fashek messed it up! So for me, as a little smart guy then, I did not feel I could follow such a leader anymore. He was not like that before but he chose to be so. I finished the tour and then I told him I was done with the band. This happened in 1992 and I stayed back in America.”
What transpired between Majek Fashek and American Interscope Records – Charles Novia
Meanwhile, explaining what transpired between himself and Interscope Records as relayed in a voice-note by popular film maker and once record label owner, Charles Novia, Majek debunked reports that his involvement in hard drugs was responsible for his losing $20 million deal with the label.
According to him, his refusal to bow to the pressure of racial discrimination against him by his label owners was responsible for the termination of the deal.
Narrating, Novia, who was once close associate and childhood friend of the late singer said “Majek told me that when the album, ‘The Spirit of Love’ was released in 1991, under the Interscope Records, it was doing very well in the market. But by the standard of Interscope records, the album was not a sell-out.”
“They didn’t know how to market the album because the kind of reggae he was singing was new to them. They just pushed the album out as world music instead of pushing it into the mainstream American music market,” Novia recalled.
Continuing, he added, “They said they have done what they had to do to market the album. Later, there was a boost for the album as an offer came from Hollywood film studio that asked Majek to do a sound track for a sports film titled, “Above the Rim” which was released in 1994. The deal was secured by his managers in America.
Majek said he rehearsed a song with his band and because he liked to record live, so he was expecting his management to book a big recording studio for him. But to his disappointment, he was taken to a smaller studio and when he saw the studio he immediately rejected, saying “I cannot record here. This is not the kind of studio I want. His managers at Interscope Records insisted that he must record at that studio as he had no choice. But Majek stood his ground that he would not record in that studio.”
“At that point, it became an argument and they threatened to deal with him if he didn’t record the song at the studio. And Majek dared them, complaining that when the likes of Snoop Dogg, and his other label mates wanted to record their songs, the label took them to big studios, and wondered why they were insisting that he should record the song at the small studio.”
“As a result, Majek left the place with his band. While he was leaving, the Interscope manager told him that he would never ever secure recording deals or shows as long as they live in America and that they would make sure that his life was a living hell here on earth. And he said they kept to their threats, and since then he stopped getting shows.
Speaking further, he said for four years, Majek didn’t secure any recording contract or shows, until Rita Marley who saw him perform somewhere in the US, in 1996, came to his rescue.
“By that time, Majek was going a little bit of the deep end, because he wasn’t getting shows anymore and he couldn’t come back to Nigeria as much as he would have wished. It was Rita Marley who had controlling shares in Tuff Gong, and who perhaps liked him. She promised to buy off Majek’s contract with Interscope records for Top Gong International Limited.
She negotiated with the management of Interscope and that was why in 1997, Majek released an album titled ‘The Rain Maker’ containing ‘Promise Land’ and ‘African Unity’ under Tuff Gong records. Rita Marley also promoted the song and had shows planned for him. But unfortunately, Majek woke up one morning and decided to return to Nigeria, and he was in the country for two years,” Charles Novia echoed.
By the time Majek reappeared on the Nigerian music scene, he had become a shadow of himself, ruined by drug habits that had apparently been aggravated in the US.
Drugs addiction allegation
It was widely believed that Majek ruined his music career following his love for hard drugs. But the rain maker on a number of occasions had denied ever getting involved in hard drugs.
In an interview with Vanguard, Majek insisted that he never used hard drugs, adding that his problem was more of spiritual than drugs.
“Let me put the record straight. I never used drugs. I was actually experiencing some spiritual attack as at that time. My problem was spiritual and not drugs. I went through some spiritual problems and I paid the price for them, that was what happened to me, it wasn’t about drugs. It wasn’t every story that was published about me that was true. Some people are full of scandals, most people don’t want me to bounce back,” Majek stated.
Also, his manager, Mr. Uzoma Day in a chat with us confirmed that Majek was never into hard drugs. “ Yes, Majek could smoke weed, cigarette and take heavy alcohol, but he never used drugs, since I knew him,” Uzo said.
To many, Majek’s last days on earth could better be imagined than described, yet the rain maker remained a formidable force in the African music sector.
At some point, Majek was a shadow of his old self, wandering on the streets of Lagos like a destitute and begging for food and drinks. And when later he was down, and his tear-eliciting photographs on the sickbed dotted the social media space, billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Femi Otedola, waded in last year, and took care of his medical bills. But unknown to many, the cancer had become bad then. And well aware that he may not survive it, his medical doctors advised that he should be moved closer to his family, from whom he had been estranged for years, particularly his wife. For anything, Majek reunited with his family in New York, after 10 years of separation with them before his death.
‘KSA inspired addition of talking drums to my music’
While it’s a well known fact that Majek was musically influenced by the likes of Bob Marley,, Jimi Hendrix, and Fela Kuti, he, however, revealed that King Sunny Ade, largely influenced his addition of talking drums to his music.
According to Charles Novia, “’There was a concert at the Apollo Theatre which had KSA on stage. I was there with my band to watch and we were to record the ‘Spirit of Love’ album later that week. So, my band and I went to watch KSA. Man, the sounds from KSA were bad!!! The drums and juju sounds. Crazy! So, after the show, I went to meet KSA backstage. He held me and greeted me warmly.
‘You have a show?’ KSA asked.
‘I’m recording later this week for a new album and have a international record deal pending’ Majek replied.
‘Good. Good’ KSA said. ‘But my brother, let me advice you. You should infuse more African elements into your songs. You sing reggae but it’s still reggae. What should make your reggae different?’ KSA pointed at talking drum. ‘Find how to infuse our ‘gbedu’ into your reggae genre’
Majek said that night he could not sleep. He began re-arranging his songs with talking drum notations. He and the band rehearsed the new rhythms. When they went to the studio to record the first track a few days later (Jah People), he said when they began jamming with the drums and music, other artistes in the building ran into the studio. The rest is history. ‘So long , Too Long’ album was what came out of that
Majek was one of the original Nigerian artistes 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.
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