Tribute: Travel Well, Rainmaker – Dami Ajayi

They say it is raining in Lagos and Majek Fashek has become an ancestor.

Blogs toll his passing, details cut as if from the same press release. Details are sketchy. Died in New York. Undisclosed illness. In the time of Covid-19 pandemic.

Last year September, a wave of rumour thrashed about that he had died. Less than a year, Majek Fashek has finally succumbed to a greater glory, and it is nothing short of poetic justice, that he sent down the rain as a sign. 

I belong to that generation of young children who sang that melodious refrain with glee whenever the clouds became overcast; I am a living man/Got a lot of work to do/send down the rain.

Born too young to understand the impact of his debut ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ and the colossal achievement of an international record like ‘Spirit of Love’, I made peace with the beauty of Majek’s black boots, the lustre of his well-kempt locks, the swagger of his carved walking stick, his goofy dance steps.

I totally believe in the myth of the Rain Maker. One day in May a long time ago, a friend rifled through my phone in search of songs to populate his playlist. This was the era of infrared transfer, when sending a song meant obviating social distance between phones and waiting for hours on end while bytes trickled. He saw Majek Fashek’s Send down the rain and began to play the song. I warned him that every time this song was played, the earth was blessed with rain. He shrugged and played the song. A few minutes later, he called me to tell me about how a sudden downpour had drenched him to his destination.

Send down the rain is a timeless classic but there was also plenty more where that came from. ‘Holy spirit’ is an unusual rastaman’s invocation of the upper room Pentecost. ‘Spirit of Love’ is a mellow song that tries to unite our world.

‘Majek, Fashek in New York’ is a joyous song with a hard-hitting percussion made for African backsides. ‘African Unity’, with that playful scat that belies serious Pan-African admonitions,  is a soulful lament. But, to my mind, the most poignant song Majek Fashek ever performed was ‘Majek Beware’. A premonition of a song that warns the singer himself of life choices. Girded with an Abrahamic religion, Fashek sang his soul out and assumed the battle was already won.

Fashek’s battle against drugs is one with its tell-tale signs all around him, but one that he is always quick to deny. How do we explain that sudden aging of a handsome light-skinned man with an unmistakable tenor? He was 57 when he died but he looked like he was 75.

Blame life on a fast lane. Brisk success. Bad company. Psychoactive drugs with the initial euphoria that eventually traps and enslaves you. The tragedy of watching Majek Fashek’s ascension is that his descent was also televised.

Born Majekodunmi Fasheke to a Yoruba father and Bini mother, he identified more with his middle-western side. Beginning his career with the reggae trio Jastix in the early 80s, he broke away and released his solo debut effort, Prisoner of Conscience.

With a vocal register unmistakably unique but also reminiscent of Bob Marley, Majek Fashek updated reggae music by enriching it with Yoruba percussion.

Majek Fashek’s demise, following the deaths of African musical icons  like Tony Allen, Manu Dibango and Mory Kante, makes African music a big casualty of the year 2020.

There may be redemption in the music which outlives them and us all.

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