The death of Nigerian singer-songwriter, guitarist and reggae music lord, Majek Fashek, in New York, America, last week threw Nigerians into a nostalgic mood. It brought into memory the exact picture of a musical icon who the country lost to the icy pincers of death. Reports of his passage sauced his strides on the dancehall with near-magical exploits while he reigned.
As he scintillated the audience with his hugely celebrated multiple award-winning single, Send down the rain, either coincidentally or through an inexplicable magical realism, raindrops suddenly began to well down from the face of the firmament.
Thrown into sudden limelight by his 1988 album entitled Prisoner of Conscience, a string of awards came the way of the man now dubbed The Rainmaker. He was exceedingly talented and blessed with a vocal resemblance of another reggae great, Jamaican Robert Nesta Marley, also known as Bob Marley.
Majek released some highly rated songs which got his African audience nostalgic of the passage of Marley all over again, and concluding that he could effectively musically fill the void of the Caribbean musical idol’s untimely passage. Songs like the highly philosophical My Guitar where Majek evocatively glamourized the imperishability of this musical instrument, suggesting that it would still be alive, even when heaven and heart pass away, gave the musician a compositional rating of note. So also his re-rendition of Marley’s old spiritual song, Redemption Song, which captured the plights of African freedom fighters and the hope of a great future, in spite of how the contributions of these fighters had been flung aside by rewriters of African history. Fashek however carved out his own unique blend from the mimicry of reggae music that was beginning to come out of emerging Nigerian musicians of the time. Such crew of that time ranged from Terra Kota, Evi Edna Ogholi, Mandators and later, Ras Kimono. His own musical blend he proudly named Pangolo which was decidedly a fine brew of rock and reggae.
As Fashek’s renown began to spread like bushfire, so also was his rumoured pastime for drug consumption. Gradually, the handsome young man with huge promise of lighting Nigeria’s name on the global musical firmament got enmeshed in drug addiction which began to hugely affect his availability for musical shows and even ultimately, his talent. Between the time he came into limelight in 1988 and the time he passed on last week, Fashek’s active musical years were a mere conservative half of the 32 years that his name was hoisted on dancehall list of notables. In 2015, news of his bankruptcy filled the air which synchronized with that of his admission into a drug rehab centre in Abuja. During this period, the picture of Majek that hopped up in the media and that many encountered when they came across him was that of a man who needed immediate help. He looked haggard, forlorn and ostensibly seriously battling ill-health, alongside a dangerous pastime of drugs consumption.
Friends rallied round him and attended to his hospitalization need. In the midst of this, in September last year, rumours of his passage filled the stratosphere, which was immediately dispelled. Those who staved off the rumour however confirmed that he was critically ill and was in a London infirmary. By the time he passed on June 2, 2020 in New York City at 57, it was revealed that he battled, alongside his drug rehabilitation binge, esophageal cancer.
I went into this long musical biography of Majek Fashek to be able to establish that in his death, Nigeria had lost a musical gem to a consistent cancerous affliction among musical stars called drug addiction.
Though there is an implosion of drug addiction among Nigerian youths, probably raised high by the consistent hopelessness that the youth can vividly see, rather than a bright horizon, drug consumption has, from time immemorial, being the bane of Nigerian music and musicians. It is an affliction that didn’t just start yesterday; it has dragged many notable Nigerian musicians down the sepulcher in their scores.
There has been this subsisting notion – notorious even outside the shores of Nigeria – that drug consumption contributes highly to artistic inspiration. While scientific studies locate a liaison between these two, no study has been able to strictly confine inspiration strictly to drug consumption. In other words, there have been artists who oscillated at the topmost height of their careers but who did so while maintaining wide social distancing from drugs. What this means is that, yes drugs can be enhancer of inspiration, other less-dangerous pastimes can evoke even higher inspirations as well. As successful artistes exist/existed who were tied to the apron strings of drugs, you could count artistes of even equal number who were permanently in dissonance with drugs.
In my book, Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of an Apala Legend, I drew on a canvas the tragic Shakespearean life of Ayinla, an equally highly talented Yoruba musician whose life was cut short in his prime. While drug consumption, which he was notorious for, like Majek, couldn’t be strictly isolated as cause of his death, it was obvious that if Ayinla had escaped the violence that eventually took his life, another death lurked in the backyard for him in his unconscionable drugs addiction.
There is no gainsaying the fact that many of today’s musicians are enmeshed in a binge of drugs consumption. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Orlando Owoh and many other departed musicians, are some of the superlative artistes who were notorious consumers of drugs. Slightly over a year ago, the name of hip-hop singer, Davido was caught in a messy puddle of drug allegation when some of his friends were caught with the substance, a pastime that claimed the lives of some of them. For the Davido gang in the musical and showbiz world, it is almost an anathema not to be involved in the culture of drugs which I once dubbed the water bottle culture. This has proved to be the graveyard of many in this category.
As I penned this lamentable end of the glittering star, Majek, I remembered another musical star close to my heart which dimmed unceremoniously. It is the tragedy of the life of Brenda Fassie, a highly talented South African singer, so talented that the great Nelson Mandela was not only fascinated by her song and danced with her on the dancehall, the Madiba and million others, including this writer, were her fans. Born November 3, 1964 in Langa, Cape Town, Brenda, like Majek, was a wonder to watch. Her album, Memeza (Shout) which was released in 1997, is rated as the apogee of her musical success. It went platinum on the first day of its release. After Yvonne Chaka Chaka, arguably no musician from that country possessed her waltz and voice. She also made a huge contribution to Miriam Makeba’s famous hit, Sangoma, as well as Harry Belafonte’s anti-apartheid song, Paradise in Gazankulu. She was once voted 17th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Unfortunately, Brenda was a suicidal drug addict and addictively wedged to lesbianism.
Brenda was not only talented, she possessed the tantrums of divas, so much that the Time magazine dubbed her the Madonna of the Townships. The world however began to notice hiccups in her life when her weird passion spilled into limelight in 1995. Brenda was found in a hotel room with the remains of her lesbian partner, who passed on during an orgy. She had died of apparent drug overdose. Brenda herself must have gone in and out of a rehab for about 30 times and on one occasion, sure she had overcome drugs, screamed, “I’m going to become the Pope next year. Nothing is impossible!” A few years after, Brenda reportedly collapsed in her brother’s arms, flung her last cocaine straw on the kitchen floor of her home in Buccleuch, fell into a coma and died on May 9, 2004, shortly after suffering from a brain damage. Post mortem report even claimed she was HIV-positive.
Today, hundreds of musicians and emerging stars, especially in Nigeria, are trapped in waltz of drugs. Their excuse is that it is a performance-enhancer. They however fail to come to terms with two facts: one, that you could perform resplendently without drugs and second, drugs could cut your life short at the cusp of stardom. This is the life of Majek Fashek; a star who lit his own candle in the wind.