On Tuesday morning, news of the death of Majekodunmi Fasheke, Nigerian reggae singer and guitarist better known as Majek Fashek, broke the internet. He passed away at 58, after battling with cancer for over a year.
The news marked the end of an era for a legend who took the showbiz industry by grip. Fashek was renowned for a slew of his hit songs which resonated with music lovers. To some of his fans, he was a singer who inspired the rise of reggae music in the country. To others, he was an activist who fought deeply-ingrained societal ills and oppression of the blacks through music.
Journey to stardom
Fashek was born in Benin to an Edo mother and a Yoruba father. While his parents lived apart, the reggae icon stayed with his dad in Lagos, where he acquired formal education at the Aladura Primary School, Anthony Village.
According to Amos McRoy, his relative, Fashek adopted his date of birth of Bob Marley, Jamaican singer, over disagreement between his parents as to when he was actually born.
“Because his father and mother gave him conflicting months, he decided to adopt Bob Marley’s date of birth. His father was from Ilesha, his mother from Benin. His late mother was related to my father,” McRoy told Entertainment Express in 2011.
Despite losing his father at the tender age of 10, the young chap was still determined to take the bull by the horn.
Fashek returned to Benin, where his mother was based, and continued his rough path to greatness. The songwriter kickstarted his music career as Rajesh Kanal with Jastix, a Benin-based reggae group, alongside Ras Kimono, fellow singer and McRoy.
After Jastix was disbanded, the talented raggae singer joined Tabansi Records in 1988 — a watershed move which marked a turning point in his music career.
Shortly after joining Tabansi Records, he changed his stage name from Rajesh Kanal to Majek Fashek. This had come about the same time when he released ‘Prisoner of Conscience,’ his hit album, which announced him to the world.
In the album was ‘Send Down the Rain’, his hit single, which earned him the now renowned name: ‘The Rainmaker’.
Fashek gained lots of attention with the project which became a street anthem in 1988. The song’s impressive run continued through 1989, snagging six Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) awards.
Following his impressive stints with Tabansi Records, he was signed to CBS Nigeria in the early 1990s and would later move to Island Records’ Mango imprint, a label dedicated to promoting reggae internationally.
According to Africa Facts Zone, he became the first African artiste to be signed by Interscope Records — an international label where he released the hit project ‘Spirit of Love’ — in 1990 for an estimated $20 million.
It is also believed he was the first Nigerian artiste to be signed by Sony music, an American global music conglomerate.
Influenced largely by late music heavyweights such as Bob Marley, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Jimi Hendrix, Fashek would later carve a niche for himself with his own genre of music ‘Kpangolo’.
The music legend also worked with several international music heavyweights including Tracy Chapman, Jimmy Cliff, Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg, and Beyoncé.
Singer-activist who pushed for Mandela’s release
Like Fela, Fashek’s songs were laced with activism geared towards bringing about societal rebirth. His songs inspired a wave of protest music that challenged various anomalies holding sway in the society.
In ‘Police Brutality’, a song off ‘Prisoner of Conscience’, the singer raised awareness about cases of extra judicial killings in Nigeria.
“Dem dey loot/Dem dey shoot/Dem dey kill our leaders of tomorrow/Instead of killing the armed robbers/Dem dey kill all the taxi drivers… Dem dey suck the blood of the sufferers/Eat the bread of the wanderers…,” he sang in a mixture of English and Pidgin.
Fashek’s songs also mirrored on socio-political issues in the continent bordering on the emancipation of a new Africa where there is harmony among its various ethnic groups.
In ‘Free Africa, Free Mandela’, a song off ‘I&I Experience’, his second album, released in late 1989, the iconic singer pushed for the release of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero.
“…When I first heard the news about Mandela, held him in a camp down, down inna Pretoria, down inna Africa, So I say, I say, free, free Mandela, free Nelson Mandela…” he can be heard singing.
Few months after he put out the track, Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990, after spending 27 years behind bars.
Songs such as ‘Religion is Politics’, ‘Africa Unity’ and ‘So Long Too Long’ were indicative of the singer’s knack for topical themes. This largely made Fashek a strong force to reckon with in the 1980s when Nigeria was under the jackboot of the military.
‘Born again’ who fought for others but lost his strength when it mattered most
While Fashek took the music scene by storm, he witnessed a sharp drop in prominence in the years preceding his death. The singer’s foray into the American music market was with little progress, a development, many argued, took a toll on his career.
In 2015, he was reported to be battling bankruptcy and drug addiction — a claim he denied. But in an interview with The PUNCH in 2017, the singer seemed to have confirmed the rumours. He however, noted that he had become a “born again”.
“The change is that Majek Fashek is born again. I believe in Jesus Christ and you will see that in my new music. When one is born again, it means old things have passed away. I’m not interested in women, drugs, alcohol and other things like that. I’m only going to be concentrating on making good music for my fans,” he had said.
In September 2019, the singer was rumoured dead at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in London where he was being treated for an undisclosed ailment. Omenka Uzoma, his manager, would however, dismiss the rumours.
In January, Uzoma had revealed that Fashek had been released from his London hospital and moved to the US where he was undergoing therapy.
The music icon, however, breathed his last on June 1. Several Nigerians, including Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo state, took to social media to mourn his death, while hailing him for his impact on the country’s music landscape.
His death further stretches the list of celebrities who have died since the dawn of the year 2020 to various ailments including COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus.
He is survived by four children and Rita, his ex-wife, who inspired ‘Without You’, one of his songs.
For years to come, Majek Fashek will be remembered in history, the knowledge bank of all ages, for his many tales of hope and how he was clawed to the great beyond by the cold hands of death.
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