The period of the eighties was the best of everything entertainment in Nigeria’s social lifestyle. The pop culture was experiencing a transition from the disco era to the protest reggae music that called our sufferings and smiling to universal attention.
These were some of the happenstances in the Nigerian music scene until a strange mystic man, Majek Fashek, arrived from Benin City, with his cousin, Amos McRroy, great guitarist, musician and a skilful drummer, creative artist and spiritualist, Black O Rize. Majek was then known as Rajesh Kanal, a prisoner of Indian pop culture influence.
Every Sunday, Majekodunmi Fasheke and Amos McRroy joined the Aladura choir to praise sing and worship Jah Jehovah.
McRoy remembers, “That was how we started. We were in charge of the 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. They slowly built a reputation as great dependable session musicians and this credibility took them to the doorstep of NTA Benin where they were featured as members of an in-house band for the popular live music programme, Music Panorama. The programme was produced and sometimes anchored by the late Pat Finn. It was a prime television show stopper, popular with live band performances that featured the crème of Nigeria’s music scene then. There were Emma Dorgu, Kris Okotie, Emma Ogosi, Sonny Okosuns, Sweet Breeze, the Benjof Magic feet dance ensemble, Rigo Ariyo, Steve Black, late Jake Solo and Remmy Pearl.
Majek and Amos met Black O Rize at the settings of Music Panorama programme. Rize, a dark fearless down-to-earth athletic built artist and drummer, returned from New Jersey and was burning with artistic creativity. The trio quickly jelled and was comfortable with one other, musically and personally. Few months after they met, they agreed to form a music band and planned relocation. Subsequently, RAM Band was formed from the initials of the three members: Rize, Amos and Majek. Majek was in search of an identity. He had been influenced by the Indian movie culture penetrating the entertainment industry. The influence of the Indian cinema superhero stardom manifested in his creative identity then, Rajesh Kanal.
Black O Rize encouraged Majek to change his name. He suggested he abbreviated his first name Majekodunmi and his last Fasheke to create a head turner identity: The suggestion birthed Majek Fashek.
Majek Fashek found an identity. Amos McRroy and Black O Rize embraced their roles in the RAM band. Something else was missing: Benin City scene was becoming too repetitive for a young band destined and ready to explode. Majek Fashek came into the City’s entertainment scene as Raajesh Kanal and left as Majek Fashek, accompanied by the new group, RAM! They were ready for the world. Benin City was just an emerging metropolis. The band relocated to Lagos, the capital city of Nigeria’s show business 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, Charlie Fyhn, another wonderful keyboardist and Sammy, an amazing guitarist. Sammy too, did not last, he left for France after few months with the band. The band personnel expanded beyond RAM. It then sought to change its name to accommodate its new members, universal visions and objectives. Several suggestions later, the group settled for Jehovah’s Walking Sticks compressed to Jah ‘Stix. Jah Stix became the first reggae band in the history of Nigeria’s music. The name was attractive and infectious.
Jah Stix’s arrival at the Nigerian music scene was lively. It instantly seduced the sizzling Lagos music scene, securing regular gigs at Hotel Bobby Benson’s popular club, Caban Bamboo located along Ikorodu Road, before graduating into the club’s resident band. Caban Bamboo was the hottest live band scene where popular musicians gathered to jam beginning midweek through the weekend. The band personality was bohemian, fearless, outspoken, brilliant and always lightening the social scene with its demeanors, charm, and character. Its messages were laced with political poetry. Jah Stix members were young, energetic, free spirit; they had an enchanting swagger and attractive radicals ready for the world. Its philosophy of life was orchestrated and anchored by Black O Rize, the spiritual and ideological guardian.
Black tells this better: “I was the spiritual and ideological leader. Amos was the musical leader while Majek was the lead singer of the Reggae as we were known. I refused to be called a band.”
Jah ‘Stix reggae was clean, free spirit doctrine fronted by MAJEK FASHEK, a slim, handsome sexy guitarist, brown, smooth and sensual toned African skin, charming with his engaging stage swagger and cute flirty smiles, influenced by his guitar idol, Jimmy Hendricks . Amos McRroy remembers: “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 fuse all these personalities together. Black was the organiser. 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 second 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 and a host of others. We were kind of tired and frustrated by the system and so, we decided to do something to ignite a change musically. I am glad our little contributions went a long way in the then music business.”
Majek found a part time job at Tabansi Records, as the resident Artist and repertoire manager. “I was financing Jah Stix when I was at Tabansi. I had a place in Apapa…working as a production manager at Tabansi. Tabansi’s son, Goddy, gave me that job. I was seriously into production,” Majek Fashek said. Few months after his employment, Tabansi signed him onto its label as a solo artist. Majek remembers the decision to go solo:
“I never wanted to do a solo album because I was committed to the visions of Jah Stix Ital. However, Bobby Benson’s son, Tony convinced me to release a solo work. The rest is history.”
Amos McRroy freelanced at Tabansi Records, Onitsha branch as a session man and assisted with demo productions for future artists and musicians. Jah Stix Reggae was busy in the Nigerian music scene beginning 1985. Tabansi Records saw the potentials of these young musicians and decided to sign them onto the record label as a group. The signing ceremony was heavy celebration at the then Winas Hotel, Ikeja. Nigerian music scene was about to be captured by a new genre of progressive protest political music movement and musical youths with anti-establishment messages and nomenclature.
Majek, backed by Jah stix reggae band, recorded his solo debut album, Prisoner of Conscience for Tabansi Records produced by late Nkono Teles, Lemmy Jackson and Majek Fashek. Majek captures the magical moments of his music life thus.
“Jebose, I was a sound and production engineer with Tabansi Records, I did this for four years. I laid tracks for Victor Essiett and Kimono’s music, even worked with Emma Ogosi on Evi Edna’s debut. I was all rounded at Tabansi. I produced my album, with minimal assistance from late Nkono Teles and Lemmy Jackson. I was in London, for months, working on that album.”
The release of this project was delayed more than one year. Amos McCroy captured the delayed moments thus, “We were told then that Chief G.A.D Tabansi, the Tabansi Records boss, travelled overseas for medical treatment. He stayed for almost two years and that delayed the release of Majek’s work. We were also frustrated as a group just waiting in vain for our own work to be released. We opted out of our contract and needed to move on.”
Meanwhile, inside Anthony Village, a new sophisticated record company and studios was built called Japex Records and Studio and it was making a splashy entrance into the music business: The office became an attraction for new, aspiring singers and musicians. Black O Rize was great friends with the 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 group signed onto Japex Records. Majek remained as a solo artist under Tabansi Records, awaiting the release of his mega hit.
Jah Stix recorded and produced four albums for Japex Records. The finished products also coincided with the release of Majek Fashek’s solo work for Tabansi Records. The group felt it was disloyal to their commitment to each other, for them to release an album as a group under Japex Records and Majek, released his debut, simultaneously under Tabansi Records. It agreed to protect Majek’s contract by allowing him to release his album first. 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 honour his contract with Tabansi Records.” In May 1988, Tabansi Records released what would be the biggest selling reggae album in Nigeria’s music history, PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE. Majek Fashek rocketed into mega superstardom. He was everywhere in the nation; instantly recognised and idolised. The ‘rainmaker’ was in demand.
The hit single, Send down the Rain was beyond beauty. Majek Fashek brand became the greatest on demand product, compared only to our petroleum export. The personality began to evolve. Majek responded to this new spotlight carelessly and freely: he became soaked by the rainy temptations of glamour, intoxicated by the moment. Fame sometimes, changed personalities, characters and behaviours. The Prisoner of Conscience would become prisoner of influence. Majek allegedly became an arrogant revolution. The once clean choir boy with a guitar and a charming innocence allegedly turned into a famous beast with brutal force and demon, performing raunchy sexually explicit nonsense on stage and in public, experimenting on mysticism and occultism. Members of his immediate family allegedly surrounded him with fetish spiritual guidance and guardian, to protect this sudden explosion. Majek was enjoying the limelight. He was willing and able to accommodate any soul and volunteer to his pleasure kingdom. He welcomed all those that were heavily laden with anything into his entourage. The groupies increased daily; his behaviours, public tantrums and utterances misdirected. Majek was also experimenting on marijuana and alcohol. Majek’s family allegedly introduced him to occultism. After the release of his first album, he allegedly began experimenting with Sat Guru Maharaji spiritual sect, Hari Krishna religion. He dug deeper into religion while in search of ecclesiastical fulfilment: he got exposed to the seven books of Moses.
Majek acknowledges these experiences: “Jebose, it’s true I read the book of Moses and it affected me because I couldn’t keep the rules of the book. But God saved my life; no be igbo or ogogoro dey worry me … na the book…I disobeyed the laws of Moses… I am not Moses….God saved my life…I am going through recovery and soon the circles would complete. That’s all I can tell you right now: You no say no be today you know me, Jebose, so I no fit lie to you or hide anything from you. Jah Lives.”
Family sources alleged that his late mother would take him to the cemetery to worship the dead in the early hours and made sacrifices. He was allegedly mixing voodoos with occultism, wrapped in spiritual mysticism. Though Amos McRroy would neither confirm nor deny these alleged behaviours by family sources, he however provided additional insights to the beginning 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’s. 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 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 on a concert tour in Cote D Ivoire. I was determined to check and contain his excesses. He had begun serious experiment with alcohol and marijuana. 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 few probing, he began to tell me how his mother and elder brother took him to cemetery in Benin City past midnight. They buried my album: that was the reason my album did not sell. When he said he envied me, I asked why? He said I had peace and comfort and that I may never understand. Probing him further, he then began what to me was a confession.
“Jebose, I refuse to tell everything to this day because that’s my cousin, my family and despite these, I love him.”
Majek has different views with regards to the mysticism and McRoy’s allegations. “That’s witchcraft. My mother was spiritual… she was not evil…I don’t practise witchcraft. I practise Jesus Christ. I am a Christian and a Rastafarian. I love Amos…. I don’t have problem with him…. Amos na my friend and brother…As for that mysticism stuff and my family, I won’t respond.”
Majek’s alleged carelessness and lack of respect for humanity when he found fame, 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 non entity, barely surviving. A once promising and hot Reggae Ital shredded by the success of its front man.
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 formative years, everyone would have had a lasting bond. Majek cannot feel free because of ego and lack of sharing 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 US 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 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. Amos became a rival instead of 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 house top.’ I am happy we are all doing well individually, years later… I keep hoping and praying Majeks circumstance would change for best.”
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