It was 1989, and the Ahmadu Bello stadium at the heart of Kaduna was packed to the rafters, bodies jammed together like sardines. Lovers, couples, parents and their children, all came out en masse, hand in hand, for the night’s event.
Down in the parking lot, car horns honked piercingly as impatient drivers looked to get out of their vehicles and into the already filled arena. No one was going to be left out of the spectacle that was about to unfold. And some spectacle it was!
I was a child at the time and didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about. However, it all sort of fell into place when the unmistakeable lines blared out of the speakers: “Mama mama mamayo, yaya yaya yayayo, send down the rain”.
The packed crowd in the arena frenetically joined in the chorus, drowning out the voice of the artiste, nay, performer they had come to witness. Majek Fashek, Nigeria’s very own globetrotting, hit-making rockstar was in town, and there was nowhere else to be.
An electrifying music fiesta took on a rather surreal hue when the heavens split and it began to drizzle as he performed his award-winning signature hit song ‘Send down the rain’.
Take a listen to the monster hit below.
Fast forward 31 years, and time may have stood still as torrential rains belted down on Lagos and environs Tuesday morning with the news that the rainmaker and music maverick, Majek Fashek, had died. According to his manager, Uzoma Day Omenka, the legendary artiste died in New York surrounded by his family.
His passing would not exactly be described as a shock given his battle with cancer over the past year and the concomitant infirmities, but it nonetheless triggered a paroxysm of emotions among music lovers around the country.
Afro-fusion star Burna Boy recognised the timelessness of his music, saying: “Majek Fashek was a great musician. The lyrics to his song So Long, Too Long remain true as a wake up call to Africans till today. Rest in peace to a legend.”
Popular TV host, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, remained grateful for the memories of his childhood days: “Rest in peace to the legend Majek Fashek and thanks to him for the great childhood music memories!!”
The legendary Femi Kuti joined in the tributes to the one he referred to as his brother. “RIP Majek. You made great music and brought great vibes. You’ll always be loved my brother,” he wrote on Twitter.
Born Majekodunmi Fasheke in 1963 in the ancient city of Benin, Majek Fashek rose to become the biggest music star of the late 1980s and 1990s with his patented brand of reggae music. At a time when Juju and Highlife were the staple here, his monster hit ‘Send down the rain’ from his scorching debut album Prisoner of Conscience, morphed into a national anthem of sorts. Drivers bopped their heads to the tune as it blared on car stereos, labourers sang along as they worked and kids moved to the beat – and sang the hook – as they played in schools and at home. He was an artiste at the very peak of his game and every Nigerian shared a piece of him.
Riding on the wave of his explosion to the limelight, his trademark locks and captivating good looks covered the screens, billboards and record stores of the time. The main attraction of the label, Tabansi Records, he’d come a long way from doing in-house shows on NTA Benin alongside McRoy Gregg and Black Rice as part of the defunct band, Jastix.
As his fame grew, so did his fortune, and accolades, culminating in his clean sweep of the PMAN Awards in 1989, where he went home with the song of the year, album of the year and reggae artiste of the year.
It wasn’t long before he split from Tabansi records, which also produced his sophomore work, I&I experience wherein he penned the socially conscious song, Free Africa Free Mandela for imprisoned South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. His pan-African message earned him continental and global fame.
This was highlighted in the lyrics in his song So Long, Too long
Arise from your sleep Africa
Arise from your sleep America
There’s work to be done Africa
A deal with Interscope Record followed, under whose auspices he produced his critically acclaimed album, Spirit of Love. Now label mates with hip-hop legends Tupac Shakur and Dr Dre, Majek Fashek embarked on global tours before it became a thing here. On one such tours in New York where he joined the likes of Jimmy Cliff and Tracy Champan on stage, he performed the hit single, So Long, Too Long on the late night show with the “amazingly sophisticated” David Letterman. It was a first for a Nigerian artiste.
He also performed the hit track in Mexico City. Watch below:
He was touted by a BBC journalist to be the heir to reggae legend Bob Marley owing to his deep lyrics and almost pristine spirituality (as encapsulated in his song Holy Spirit). But in actuality, he tilted more toward a hybrid of Bob Marley and Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti with his unique genre, Kpangolo.
Take a listen to his Holy Spirit below
Speaking of his early influence in a 2017 interview with TheSun, Majek, who had fathered four children with his wife Rita, said “…he [Fela] was my master and my hero. I grew up in his shrine and Fela gave me a break. Fela told me in America that I must come home.”
It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that he addressed social justice, inequality and everyday challenges of being a black African with his music. The endless religious conflicts, still bedevilling African societies till this day, was addressed in his song Religion na Politics. And the gamut of emotions in a mother-child relationship was aptly captured in his street anthem, Mother. Nigerians of a certain generation still remember the hook to the song; “Mama de de oyoyo…”
Time, they say, makes heroes and destroys celebrities, and not even the buccaneering Majek Fashek could buck the trend. After leaving Interscope, he did a cover of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and years later, he attempted to bounce back with the modestly successful Little Patience album. But the ravages of time had set in and as anyone who’s been there knows, there’s nothing subtle about it.
Listen to his catchy cover of redemption song below.
His comeback was made decidedly more onerous by the pop-based music revolution triggered by the launch of MTV Base in the mid 2000s. Arguably, his biggest achievement was bringing reggae to the mainstream in Nigeria. But that ‘mainstream’ had experienced a paradigm shift carried by a younger generation of contemporary acts.
All hopes of a comeback for the Rainmaker all but vanished when he made a public appearance in 2009 looking badly emaciated and sickly, a shadow of his former self. Some said it was drugs, others claimed it was cancer. Nothing was confirmed at the time. One thing was certain however, Majek Fashek had lost his mojo.
He somehow remained on the fringes of a vastly transformed music industry, and even brought down the house with a spirited performance of his timeless song, Send down the rain at the 2014 Headies Award. But that was the brightest fans would see him in his twilight years before the cold hands of death took him from this world on that wet morning.
In a 2015 interview on his tiff with a younger artiste who allegedly pirated one of his songs, he said: “artistes nowadays are lazy…they don’t write anymore.”
But the truth is, they don’t make them like Majek Fashek anymore – a swashbuckling, guitar-strumming, magic-making crooner who awakens the senses and uplifts the spirits.
The rains continue to pound on that Tuesday morning, and a moment of realization dawned on lesser mortals: the rainmaker had exited in a storm to join the choirs of angels on high. How fitting!