Nigerian singer, songwriter, and guitarist Majek Fashek died from esophageal cancer on June 1, 2020 in New York. Much like his fellow reggae musician Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley, Fashek’s life and music seemed larger than life. And much like Marley, Fashek died too soon of cancer, robbing the world of an iconic musical force.
Early life and influences
Born Majekodunmi Fasheke in Benin City in 1963, Fashek’s life and music epitomized the cultural diversity of Nigeria and its musical offerings. After his parents’ divorce, he lived with his mother, a person who would continue to play a prominent role in his life. For instance, Fashek wrote ‘Mother’, a song with lyrics that include: ‘Mother (Mother) / Never cry / Mother (mother) / Show your smile’.
Music and spirituality were other prominent forces in young Fasheke’s life that he would carry through to adulthood. He wrote songs for his Aladura church choir and learned to play the guitar and trumpet.
Putting these musical talents into practice, Fasheke joined the band Jastix. Using the stage name Rajesh Kanal, he performed alongside fellow band members Black Rice Osagie, Amos McRoy Gregg (later known as Amos McRoy), and later Ras Kimono. Jastix received national recognition by performing as the house band for the television programme Music Panorama.
Jastix also served as session musicians for Edi Rasta, a reggae singer later known as Evi-Edna Ogholi, and toured with the Mandators, another reggae group. Fasheke/Kanal left the group in 1988 and adopted the name Majek Fashek.
Fashek’s solo career was phenomenally successful from the start. He released his debut album, Prisoner of Conscience, on Tabansi Records in 1988. The album’s title shared similarities with Prisoners of Conscience, the name of Fashek’s backing band.
Prisoner of Conscience included the hit single ‘Send Down the Rain’. The album, the song, and Fashek earned several Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) awards in 1989.
That same year, Fashek released another album, I&I Experience. This album included the song ‘Free Africa, Free Mandela,’ a song about South Africa that reflected his political consciousness.
Other work for other labels followed, including the album So Long Too Long for CBS Nigeria 1991 and Spirit of Love for Interscope Records, also in 1991. A few years later, in 1994, the Flame Tree label released The Best of Majek Fashek.
Fashek also released the albums Rainmaker in 1997 and Little Patience in 2004. His work also includes ‘We Are Not Afraid,’ a 2016 song and celebrity video that raised money for the Human Rights Watch and the International Rescue Committee.
Along with an active recording career, Fashek performed around the world. He performed at large concert venues and more intimate clubs in Nigeria, the United States, and other countries. He also appeared on television programmes, such as the U.S. talk show Late Night with David Letterman, where he sang ‘So Long Too Long’ in 1992.
The musician’s live performances often included an odd occurrence. Fashek would wait to play his hit ‘Send Down the Rain’ until the end of concerts at outdoor venues. He did so because when he performed ‘Send Down the Rain’ during an outdoor concert, it often rained during the song.
Because of this occurrence, Fashek became known as the Rainmaker, a nickname that hinted that he had powers and interests beyond his prodigious notable music talents.
Political and spiritual connections
Like Bob Marley, whose songs discussed human rights, Fashek embraced politics in addition to music. His song ‘So Long Too Long’ promoted pan-African unity. Another of his songs, ‘Free Africa, Free Mandela,’ called for the end of apartheid and denounced the imprisonment of South African leader Nelson Mandela.
He released the song ‘Majek Beware (Fire)’ in 1992, around the time that civil unrest affected the U.S. city of Los Angeles following the acquittal of police officers accused of beating African American Rodney King.
The song appeared in media coverage related to Rodney King, and Fashek claimed that this wasn’t an accident. ‘So, are you that naive? Don’t you reason?’ he told his cousin and former bandmate (and current minister) Amos McRoy, who said that Fashek ‘started mentioning spiritual books.’
Fashek and others believed that the media’s use of ‘Majek Beware (Fire)’ proved his spiritual connections. In their view, this connection explained why it rained when he performed ‘Send Down the Rain’ at concerts.
Alcohol and drug use
Unfortunately, there were also downsides to these spiritual ties. Fashek said he could hear the voices of spirits. To quiet these spirits, he began drinking large amounts of alcohol and using drugs, according to his cousin McRoy.
Through the years, this alcohol and drug use escalated and cost him dearly. Fashek arrived at some concerts intoxicated and appeared at others late.
This behavior, as well as disagreements with his record label that he attributed to racism, may have hurt his chances of achieving further success in the United States. Fasek also separated from his wife Rita and their four sons but later reunited with them.
Although he said that he was scared of rehab and wary of Western medicine because he claimed it could threaten his virility, Fashek attended treatment for alcohol abuse in Abuja in 2015. He spent the last years of his life living in Nigeria and then the United States.
Although he’s physically gone, Fashek’s presence remains and he leaves a rich legacy. His music is classified as reggae, but it’s also more. It incorporates Nigerian juju and U.S. hard rock in addition to reggae.
This music also has larger messages. Fashek wanted to uplift people politically and spiritually. He wanted his music to enlighten people in addition to entertaining them. By producing music that honors different styles, countries, and messages, Majek Fashek entertained and enlightened with style and consciousness.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.
shazam.com – Mother
naijaolofofo.com – Majek Fashek Dabbled into Spiritism and It Affected Him Terribly — Amos McRoy
thenationonlineng.net – Majek Fashek: Tragedy of the ‘Rainmaker’
allafrica.com – Nigeria: Majek Fashek and the Curse of Drug Addiction