IN HIS HEYDAY, MAJEK FASHEK WAS ONE ARTISTE YOU COULD ACTUALLY DESCRIBE AS THE NEXT BIG THING WITHOUT TONGUE-IN-CHEEK. TODAY, WHEN HE MANAGES TO MOUNT THE STAGE TO SING AND STRUM HIS GUITAR, THERE ARE ONLY FAINT HINTS OF WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN IF HE HAD NOT WALKED THE SELF-DESTRUCTIVE PATH. LANRE ODUKOYA GOES ON THE TRAIL OF THE TROUBLED ARTISTE
On Majek’s trail
His business partner, Hajia Aminat Dangaji, scheduled a meeting with Majek Fashek at his home last Monday. It was the second such appointment she would be fixing in a few days. She could not honour the first scheduled to hold two weekends ago because she was down with malaria. She called to say that Majek Fashek was “somewhere in Ikeja” with some of his friends.
The rain maker may be walking the thin line between fame and infamy - the latter an unimaginable possibility in the days when Majek was the darling of Nigeria’s showbiz. Chris Nwandu, who was the former artiste manager of Sony Music recalls those days with some nostalgia. “It was when I was the promotions and artistes manager of Sony Music Nigeria. We produced two of Majek Fashek’s albums, I and I Experience and So Long, Too Long. I and I had about 13 tracks. We did these albums after his debut, Send Down the Rain. We always believed that apart from Fela Kuti, Majek Fashek was going to be the greatest singer from Africa because he was positioned to be that. He had all it takes, he had the voice, the lyrics and the personality. He was everybody’s showman to the core. He is very talented, intelligent, very humble.
“Majek was a fellow you would meet once and just want to be with. He was sociable and wasn’t into alcohol or drugs then. When he was travelling to the United States for the first time, we advised him not to stay back after the tour. But for some reason, he decided to stay back there. And I think that was where the problem started for him. He was a very religious person, not just the fact he was a Christian. He was also very close to his mother and after his mother’s death, it affected him so much that he suffered nervous breakdown and psychological breakdown. Majek has been a very nice person, it’s just unfortunate to see him in this state. Even then at Sony Music, we made so much effort to bring him back to Nigeria, but there were some people around him who didn’t want him to come back.”
Even then, it was not all gloom while in the United States. For some period, he still basked in the limelight and enjoyed the perks that comes with being a gifted artiste. He was on David Letterman’s show and performed at live shows that featured A-list artistes. But that was before his capacity to self-destruct became evident. Once the descent into drugs began, Majek had become almost irredeemable.
Not beyond redemption
But Dangaji thinks Majek is very fine now. When asked what form of ailment stalled their plan to release the album earlier in January, she said: “He fell sick and nobody is immune to sickness. At least you’re here talking to him and you can see that he’s very fine. If he’s not fine how could we be planning to take him on tour of 10 major cities in Nigeria? He’s going to be on a tour he titled, Operation Feed the Nation. He feels he’s been too far away from his fans and he’s feeding them with songs that preach hope.”
After the rescheduled meeting, we met in Ikeja where we had extensive talk on what he’d been going through. Looking frail, he clasped a cigarette and sipped occasionally from a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout.
Asked to comment on his drug addiction which has taken a huge toll on his health, he said: “People don’t understand my plight; the bible says we’re not fighting against flesh and blood, but spiritual wickedness in high and low places. That’s why you find me with my partner, Hajia Aminat Dangaji, because she’s spiritual. The holy ghost fought the battle for me. My collaboration with Hajia Dangaji is because I realised that her passion lies in promoting young music artistes. I have a business called USR, Underground System Records, and it’s a production company in conjunction with A-Plus records owned by Hajia. A-Plus is handling my management.”
Reminded that his deal with Charles Novia of November Records might still be subsisting, that glazed, faraway look returned to his eyes. “Charles Novia and I didn’t have a deal. He ripped me off. He wanted to blow up his November Records and he was looking for me all over the United States. He located me through one of my boys, Jimmy King, who connected him to another guy who is into fashion business and doing big in the United States. Have you heard of November Records afterwards? No, they’re in shambles. But he came to America at the right time because I was in Los Angeles and I’d just finished the album, Little Patience. The song was on College Radio with Femi Kuti and at that time I was missing home.
“I haven’t been in Nigeria since I came to America, so I was happy to see Charles. The timing was right and I introduced him to my partner, he’s an Italian and he charged Charles $100,000. Charles paid $50,000 for licensing as they do in America. The original producers of the album were the Italians; they only gave him a data of the sounds and he paid for it. But he did incredible job in the sense that he was able to give me a new image because of the bad press I’ve had back here in Nigeria. Charles was selfish because he didn’t eventually pay my guy the entire sum. My guy was paying my bills in Los Angeles. Charlie Diaga Sino is the one who produced the Little Patience album. My guy too ripped me off - about $20,000 - but I couldn’t really bother him because he was the one taking care of my bills.”
Married with four boys, Majek’s family is in the United States. His second son, Destiny, is still in college but he is into rap music. “My son is great with rap; he can beat most of these Nigerian acts here,” he boasted.
His first son is married to a Spaniard, and is said to return home often because Majek didn’t take him abroad until he was 16 years old. He’s the reason some of Majek’s close friends call him grandpa.
It’s been about two years since he left his family to live in Lagos almost alone. On how challenging it is being away from his wife, he said: “I’ve been celibate for five months now. Music requires discipline.”
His latest album will be released in April when he would be touring some European cities where he expects to shoot the video for some songs in his new album. He would be in the United Kingdom with Dangaji.