Majek Fashek on arrival to Nigeria’s emerging pop culture of the 1980s instantly constructed his own freeway of love, affection, turbulence and troubled soul..
By the end of the seventies decade, Nigeria’s pop culture, recovering from the civil war, was saturated by musicians seeking fame, fortune and to a few extents, misfortune and nightmare, through a funk-influenced genre of that era’s music. In 1979, Eastern Nigeria based psychedelic funk band, Sweet Breeze, a rebrand of the 1960s and early 1970s funk band, Fuel For Love, charmed our music world with a monumental a single hit, BEAUTIFUL WOMAN, from its late entry as a glass of new wine from an ageless bottle- album, CLOUD NINE…
In the early 1980s, Dizzy K Falola, Jide Obi, Felix Leberty, Sweet Breeze, Emma Dorgu, Nelly Uchendu, Dora Ifudu, Oby Onyioha, Stella Monye, Kris Okotie, Late Christy Essien Igbokwe, Onyeka Onwenu, Sonny Okosuns, Fela Kuti energized Nigeria’s new pop music scenes. These stars were some of the happenstances in the Nigerian music scene until a strange mystic man arrived from Benin City, with his acoustic guitar and cousin, Amos McCroy, ( Jegg).
Every Sunday, Majek and McCroy joined the Aladura choir for songs of praise to Jah Jehovah. McCroy remembers:” That was how we started. We were in charge of the Aladura Church band. I was a bass guitarist and Majek was the choir’s trumpeter. Later I taught Majek the guitar picks”. The cousins backed other aspiring artistes with their music demos or live performances within Benin City. Gradually, they built a reputation as great dependable session musicians: that trust and reliability took them to the studios of NTA Benin where they were featured as members of the resident band for the live and lively weekend music program, MUSIC PANORAMA.
Music Panorama, produced and sometimes anchored by Late POGO LIMITED frontman and great musician, Pat Finn, was a successful and popular live music program which aired every Saturday evening. It featured aspiring artistes freestyling on the mic,in concert with breakthrough national artistes such as Sir Victor Uwaifo, late Emma Dorgu, Kris Okotie, Emma Ogosi, Osayemore Joseph, late Sonny Okosuns, Sweet Breeze, the Benjof Majic feet dance ensemble, Rigo Ariyo, Steve Black, Late Jake Solo, Remmy Pearl.
Along came another great guitarist, musician and a wicked drummer, creative artist spiritualist named Black O Rize. Jah Stix’s formative years were spiritual, spiced with music and sermon. The platform was eccentrically blended into the Aladura church in Benin City. Majekodunmi, then known as; “Raji Canal” and Amos McCroy were members of Aladura Church sect and its choir.
Majek and Amos met Black O Rize at the studio settings of Music Panorama program. Rize, a dark fearless down to earth athletic built artist and drummer, returned from New Jersey and was hyped with artistic creativity. The quartet quickly intertwined comfortably with each other, musically; their personalities, though uniquely strange, blended. Months after the meet, they agreed to form a music band and planned relocation. The trio instrumentalists needed a name for their new band. So, RAM BAND was coined from the initials of the three members’ names: Rize, Amos Majek. Majek was in search of an identity. He had been influenced by the Indian pop culture penetrating Nigeria’s entertainment industry. The effect of the Indian pop culture manifested in his chosen identity then: Raji Kanal.. But when Black Rice finally met Majek, he encouraged him to change his name, abbreviating his first name ( Majekodunmi) and his last (Fasheke) to create an everlasting identity: The suggestion birthed: MAJEK FASHEK.
Majek Fashek found an identity. Amos McCroy and Black O Rize embraced their roles in the band, RAM. But Benin City music scene was becoming too repetitive, boring and less challenging for a young band destined and ready to explode. Majek Fahek came into the City’s entertainment scene with an Indian influenced character, RAAJI KANAL. He would leave that ancient kingdom as MAJEK FASHEK, accompanied by the new Ital group: RAM!
The reggae Ital dream of location to Lagos, the fun city , under RAMS Band, happened soonest, with other new members: Dennis Cecilia joined the group in Lagos. He later left to run his mother’s flourishing restaurant and never returned. George Orwell, the classic keyboardist, joined, Charlie Fyhn, another wonderful keyboardist and Sammy, an amazing guitarist. Sammy too did not last: he left for France after a few months with the band.
The composition of the group expanded as new personalities were added. The band was beyond RAM. It then sought to change its name to accommodate other members and be universally ideal and appealing. Several suggestions later, the group settled for JEHOVAH’s WALKING STICKS, abbreviated: JAH ‘STIX. Jah Stix became the first reggae band in the history of Nigeria’s music. The name was entrancing and infectious.
Jah Stix’ arrival into the Nigerian music scene was beyond expectation…. They were young, hybrid bohemians, studious road warriors, masters of their musical instruments and fantastic and fearless songwriters with Jehovah’s spirits.. It instantly settled into the sizzling Lagos music scene, secured regular gigs at Hotel Bobby Bensons popular club, Caban Bamboo, before it became a permanent Club’s band. The personalities were outspoken, brilliant and always lightening up the social scene with their demeanors..Jah Stix’s messages were laced with political poetry, a call to action: haters of the republic and the sad system under Military dictatorships. They were Nationalists with guitars, drums, percussions, keyboard and engaging songs. Jah ‘Stix was an engaging storyteller with its music and performances.
Jah Stix members were also free spirit radicals ready for the world. Its music became the voice of the disenfranchised Nigerian youths. It was a different norm from the then conservative Nigerian music scene and performers of their era. These were new dreadlock guys, great instrumentalists and singers with provocative and profound songwriting skills and couture. The protest and conscious music of Jah Stix was an added flavor to Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s polyrhythmic Afrobeat music. Fela had found a companion group, marinated in afrobeat lifestyle and philosophy, young comrades, additional protest voices through the power of music, expressing and exposing the sufferings in the land. Jah stix group became the new crusaders for social justice and equity. Its performance was always electrifying and defining, poignant, sassy and sweaty. Its philosophy of life was orchestrated and anchored by Black O Rize, the spiritual and ideological guardian. . Black tells this better: “Jebose, I was the spiritual and ideological leader. Amos was the musical leader while Majek was the lead singer of the Reggae Itals as we were known. I refused to be called a band. “
Jah ‘Stix reggae Ital was a clean free spirit doctrine fronted by MAJEK FASHEK, a skinny handsome sexy guitarist, brown, smooth sensual and seductive toned African skin, flavored by his enchanting stage swagger and cute flirty smiles, emulating his guitar idol, Jimmy Hendricks. Amos McCroy explains:” Jebose, Majek was of a Bob Marley and Jimmy Hendrix creation, Black was of Dillinger and U-Roy personality, while I was more of Peter Tosh and Gregory Isaacs. So we had to weave these personalities together.. Black was the organizer. Majek and I were the music directors. Our relocation to Lagos changed the face of the music industry. We were involved in every known music project then. I counted over 86 recording projects we were involved in both as a group and as individuals. There was Terra Kotta”s 2nd album, we did something with Perry Ernest, The Mandators, Ras Kimono, Orits Williki, Late Isaac Black, Late Best Agoha, Marshall, Evi Edna Ogholi, Andy Shureman, Walka Inni Kamanda from Kano, Lemmy Ghariokwu & a host of others ..
During this experience, Majek Fashek was hired as the Resident Artist and Repertoire manager for Tabansi records. A few months after his employment, Tabansi signed him on as a SOLO artist. Amos McCroy freelanced at Tabansi records as a session man and assisted with demo productions for future artists and musicians. Though each band personality had sidekick music productions as session men or freelance producers, Jah Stix Reggae Ital was busy in the Nigerian music scene.
Early 1985, Tabansi records saw the potentials of these young musicians and decided to sign them onto its record label, as a group. The signing ceremony was a mega bash at the then Winas hotel, Ikeja. The Nigerian music scene was about to be captured by a protest political music movement, lyrics and social engineers with anti-establishment messages and attitudes. After signing onto the record company, Jah Stix began a major national tour of the country, bringing its music and message to a young disenchanted Nigerians frustrated and hopeless about the military dictatorship. Their tours also included performances at various prisons across Nigeria for inmates.
In 1988, Majek, backed by Jah stix reggae band recorded his solo debut album, PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE, for Tabansi records. The release was delayed for one year. Amos McCroy remembered those moments thusly:” We were told then that Chief G.A.D Tabansi, the Tabansi Records boss, traveled overseas for medical treatment. He stayed for almost two years and that delayed the release of Majeks work. We were also frustrated as a group just waiting in vain for our own work to be released. We wanted out of our contract and needed to move on”.
Meanwhile, inside Anthony Village by Maryland, Lagos axis, a new sophisticated record company and studios opened: Japex Records and Studios made a sophisticated entrance into Nigeria’s music recording business with its new state of the art studios: Japex became an attraction to new, aspiring singers and musicians to visit this new home of sounds. Black O Rize was great friends with owner of Japex, Frank Eke: “Frank and I go way back, so I convinced him of the band and he signed us onto his label.” After years of waiting for Tabansi records deal to manifest, Jah Stix Reggae Ital group signed onto Japex records. Majek remained as a solo artist under Tabansi records, awaiting the release of PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE.
Jah ‘Stix recorded and produced four albums for Japex records. The album also coincided with the release of Majek Fasheks solo work for Tabansi records… The group felt it was bad for it to release an album as a group with Japex records Label while Majek would release his debut album almost at the same time under Tabansi records. It agreed to protect the Majeks contract. The band decided to sneak into Japex studios and steal its master tapes, hid them from Japex records’ management so as to allow Majek Fashek to release his debut: “We wanted Majek to honor his contract with Tabansi records.”
So in May 1988, Tabansi records released what would be the biggest selling reggae album in Nigeria’s music history: PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE. It instantly rocketed Majek Fahek into superstardom.
The hit single, Send down the Rain was majestic. Majek Fashek, the brand, became the greatest on-demand product in Nigeria, compared only to our petroleum export… It was during these times that the personality began to evolve. Fame, sometimes, change personalities, characters and behaviors. Majek was no different. Majek allegedly became an arrogant revolution. The once clean Aladura choir boy with a guitar and innocence allegedly turned into a famous beast with brutal force and demonic, performing raunchy sexually explicit nonsense on stage and in public. Members of his immediate family allegedly surrounded him with fetish spiritual guidance and guardian, to protect the sudden explosion and money-making family messiah. Majek was enjoying the limelight. He was willing and able to find any that came to seek him and easily welcome all to his entourage.
The groupies increased daily and his behaviors and public tantrums and stage utterances were beginning to change. Majek was also experimenting with marijuana and alcohol. Majeks family also allegedly introduced him to occultism within these periods. After the release of PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE, he allegedly began experimenting with Sat Guru Maharaji spiritual sect, Hari Krishna religion and was exposed to the seven books of Moses. Family sources alleged that during his early years, his late mother would take him to the cemetery to worship the dead at midnight hours and offered sacrifices. He was allegedly mixing voodoos with occultism, wrapped in spiritual mysticism. Though Amos McCroy would neither confirm nor deny these alleged observations by family sources he, however, provided additional insights into the beginnings of a troubled soul: “This happened immediately after the release of my first album: we were returning from rehearsals, riding in his car; one of the female companions asked me what was happening to my record sales: She said my album was not making waves as Majek’s, Mandators, Kimono, etc: Majek quickly interrupted her and said:“ don’t mind Amos; he doesn’t want to ask me the road that leads to stardom. He thinks it’s a good record that makes one a star. I then slapped his head and asked him which road he passed. He told me in our Bini dialect that “this is not the Majek you knew and grew up with o!. I did not take him seriously…until December 1998 when we went for a concert in Cote D’Ivoire. I was determined to check his excesses. I hung around him to watch his excessive use of alcohol throughout our concert period. Between 2 and 2.30 a.m while we were watching movies together, he looked at me and said, rather solemnly:”Amos I envy you”. I was shocked by the statement. After a lot of probing he began to tell me how his mother and elder brother took him to Cemetery in Benin City past midnight and they buried my record, that was the reason my record did not sell.. When he said he envied me I asked him why?. He said I had peace and comfort and that I may never understand…..probing further, he then began what to me was a confession. I refuse to tell everything to this day because that’s my cousin, my family and despite these I love him”.
Majek Fashek embraced fame and was mesmerized by the attention and unsolicited affection it brought along. Through these passages, he began to pay less attention to Jah Stix band. He became distanced from the Reggae Ital band, focusing mainly on the success of his debut album: fast and furious lifestyle and the ovations. He was also searching for everlasting peace and comfort through religion, a true covenant with his soul and God. He became a “man of sorrow in search of my tomorrow…”
Majek’s alleged carelessness and lack of respect, recognition and appreciation for Jah Stix deepened; the remaining personalities began to seek different directions with their lives and their music. Jah Stix slowly fragmented into nonentity, barely surviving. A once-promising and hot Reggae Ital shredded by the success of its frontman. Black O Rize adds: “The mission of Jah Stix Reggae Ital was more than one person in the band. If my guys had followed the vision projected in the earlier formative years, everyone would have had a lasting bond. Majek cannot feel free because of ego and lack of sharing a conscience. Majek couldn’t look George in the eyes for abandoning him because of fame and America. I still feel sorry for Majek.
In 1989 I predicted his family was going to ruin him and that America was going to be a make or break thing for him. When he wanted to travel on his first U.S tour, he dropped two original members of the band: Amos and George. He said I could go with him if I wanted to. But I don’t sell out. I was already an EU citizen, so I didn’t need Majek to succeed in life; we sacrificed the group’s album for PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE. Why would he break us apart from this way? These guys were a bunch of talent that needed harnessing, In 1989 George and I went to Europe and the others went to US. The rest is history. Jah Stix Reggae Ital Band was the fertilizer and the manure that would have sustained Majek’s growth and fame, but he rejected the stones needed for the building and allowed sentiments and envy to creep into his heart, seeking the counsels of Lucifer…Amos became a rival instead of a partner, George was deemed not smart enough. My problem with him was his problem with Ja’Stix; George and Amos. I left him that day in ’89 and we would not see again until 20 years later. I was very angry so I asked Amos and George to come with me to Europe just to show that ‘when the rain falls, it doesn’t fall on one man’s housetop’. I am happy we are all doing well individually, years later… I keep hoping and praying Majeks circumstance would change for best”….