Obituary: A meteoric rise and a mysterious fall, Majek Fashek was no ordinary man
In 1985, South-South Nigeria experienced its highest rainfall value (1349mm) according to a report titled ‘Variation in Annual Rainfall Data of Forty Years (1978-2017) for South-South, Nigeria’ by K.E Ukhurebor and I.C Abiodun.
In 1986 and 1987, the level of rainfall experienced in that part of the country would drop significantly.
Nigeria, during this period, was under the firm grasp of a military dictator, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. The country was suffering from the collapse of oil prices globally. In 1980, the average price of oil was $33.86. By 1988 it was going for $14.60. The oil-dependent economy was in shambles.
In sports, Nigeria was not doing great either. In March 1988, the Super Eagles lost the finals of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) to its arch-rivals Cameroon by a lone goal.
After picking up a silver and a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles , Nigeria failed to win any medal at the Games in Seoul four years later.
Also in this year, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti hadn’t released an album in three years, and one of his most mesmerising songs ‘Beasts of No Nation’ wouldn’t come out until a year later.
1988 looked arid and almost lifeless until a 25-year old handsome man strummed the strings of his guitar and sang a song titled ‘Send Down the Rain’. The classic Nigerian song was a part of Majek Fashek‘s debut album ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ released in the same year.
Legend has it that at the height of popularity of this song, it rained heavily in Nigeria. Some say Nigeria had not experienced such an amount of rainfall in a while.
According to the report by K.E Ukhurebor and I.C Abiodun, the rainfall value was significantly higher than it was the previous year.
It could be coincidence or something mystic in the air, but by 1989, the average price of oil had risen to $18.07.
In 1989, even though the Flying Eagles would lose in the final of the U-20 World Cup, it created a spectacular record by coming back from four goals down against the USSR in the quarter-final to eventually win on penalties. The spectacular feat has been penned down in history books as the Miracle of Dammam.
‘Send Down the Rain’
Can we attribute these incidents to the spiritual potency of a five-minute reggae classic? Those who saw the meteoric rise of Fashek in 1988 swear by the unworldly powers of his classic hit single.
In a 2013 interview with now defunct Entertainment Express Newspaper, Amos McRoy, a former bandmate and cousin of Majek Fashek-only a few knew the musician better than McRoy- claimed that the singer told him the song ‘Send Down The Rain’ had a spiritual force behind it.
“That was one of the things he told me in Cote d’Ivoire. Based on what he told me, I think he ‘crossed the line’ before he released the album,” McRoy said in that interview.
“In Cote d’Ivoire, I asked him certain questions. His reply was: ‘Amos, are you that naive? I released Send Down The Rain, everywhere that song was played, rain must fall. Even in summer while we were on US tour, I played Send Down The Rain and rain fell. I released Free Mandela and that month Mandela was released. I did fire (Majek Beware) the week that record was released was the week the Rodney King incident happened. That song, Fire o! Fire o! was played for almost two months in all the TV and radio stations in Los Angeles during that Rodney King episode. So, are you that naive? Don’t you reason?‘
Whether you are a believer or not, one thing is certain, no song in Nigerian history has been mythologized as ‘Send Down the Rain’. The composer himself is as legendary as the biggest Nigerian music legends. Majek Fashek is a legacy act in Nigeria. Millennials know his name and his evergreen song is as famous as ‘Sweet Mother’ and ‘One Love’, immensely popular Nigerian evergreens.
With his bright smile and enchanting vocals, Majek Fashek became the hottest act out of Nigeria in 1988. ‘Send Down the Rain’ was surely the song of the year and his debut album was a bestseller.
His hurricane did not end in 1988. In 1989 he won six awards at the PMAN Awards including the prestigious Album of the Year and Song of the Year categories.
Majek Fashek did not come out of the clouds like a bolt of lightning. His solo arrival in 1988 came at a time when Reggae fever was sweeping Nigeria.
The late 80s to the early 90s was the golden era of Reggae music in Nigeria.
The genre had found a footing in the country in the late 70s most likely because of Bob Marley‘s global achievements. The Mandators, a Reggae band led by Victor Essiet, released its debut album ‘Sunrise’ in 1979. This period marked the beginning of Reggae music in Nigeria.
By 1987, The Mandators released the album ‘Crisis’ under Polygram, and it was a smash hit.
Majek Fashek has a rich history with The Mandators. In the early 80s, Fashek who was known as Rajesh Kanal at the time was part of a group called Jastix along with McRoy Gregg, and Black Rice who was the lead singer.
One of the main gigs of the band was as the in-house band of a music show ‘Music Panorama’ which aired on NTA Benin. Jastix also toured with The Mandators during this period.
On his own, Majek Fashek was one of the session musicians for an upcoming female Reggae singer known as Edi Rasta. Today, she is fondly remembered as Evi Edna Ogholi, the Nigerian Queen of Reggae.
When Jastix disbanded, Majekodunmi Fasheke who was going as Majek Fashek now signed a solo record deal with Tabansi Records in 1988. He dropped his solo album a year after The Mandators had dropped their successful album.
The Reggae fever in Nigeria continued with Nigerian reggae music legends Ras Kimono, Oritz Wiliki dropping their debut albums in 1989. During the golden generation of Reggae music, Majek Fashek was undoubtedly its biggest star.
In 1989, he released the equally successful album I&I Experience under Tabansi Records. Fashek’s success was so huge that he soon had international offers knocking on his door.
He was briefly signed to CBS Records Nigeria (now Sony Music) and released the album ‘So Long Too Long’ in 1990. In the same year, he signed to Interscope Records and released the album ‘Spirit of Love’ in 1991.
In 1992, Majek Fashek would make Nigerian history as the first Nigerian singer to appear on a late-night TV show in America, the David Letterman Show, where he sang ‘So Long, Too Long’.
In the same year, New York Daily News would hail him as the spiritual heir to Bob Marley.
Fall of Majek Fashek
At the height of Fashek’s heady success, they were disturbing reports about the singer. Sources close to him say he started showing erratic behaviour. There have been various reports as to what started his downward spiral. Some blame mysticism, others alcohol and the prevalent theory – hard drugs.
In that 2013 interview, McRoy claimed that root of Fashek’s predicaments was not drug-related.
“Truth is Majek’s problem is spiritual. Majek strayed into spiritism.” he said.
“Majek’s problem is not drug-related. He took to alcoholism to get over his real problem. Failing to keep the rules of whatever he delved into, he started to hallucinate. He started seeing things. For instance, if he was in a room, he would tell you ‘open the door, open the window’. If you tell him the air condition is on, he would say “Can’t you see them spirits; you want to trap the spirits. Men, let the spirits move around.”
One thing was clear though, by the late 90s, Majek Fashek had started looking emaciated in public. He appeared unkempt and disoriented. In 1997, he released an album ‘Rainmaker’. Fashek wouldn’t release an album until 8 years later.
Little Patience was released under November Records and featured the hit single of the same title. The video featured clips of the great singer performing. One thing was clear in that video, Majek Fashek was no longer the man he was.
From here on, it was a downward spiral. Photos of a degenerated Majek Fashek would appear on newspapers and blogs regularly, shocking a nation that had celebrated a vibrant and energetic singer.
There had been several interventions to restore Majek Fashek to his former glory, the latest in 2015 when well-meaning Nigerians including an oil baron paid for his rehab.
His latest stab at reviving his career was unsuccessful. On Tuesday, June 2, 2020, his longtime manager Umenka Uzoma Day announced his passing.
Majek Fashek was born in February 1963 in Benin City, Edo State.