Thursday, June 4, 2020

Nigerian Reggae Star Majek Fashek Dies at 57

Beloved Nigerian reggae star Majek Fashek has died at age 57.

The singer's manager, Omenka Uzoma, told the BBC that Fashek (born Majekodunmi Fasheke), died in his sleep in New York. In an Instagram video, Uzoma reconfirmed the news, praising Fashek for all he did for Nigeria.

Singer/songwriter Fashek was born in the Edo state of Benin in 1963 and rose to prominence in 1988 when he released his solo debut, Prisoner of Conscience (his backing band was known as the Prisoners of Conscience), which included the award-winning single "Send Down the Rain."

With a high, quivering voice that drew comparisons to reggae great Bob Marley, and a conscious vibe in keeping with Marley's push to uplift, Fashek quickly gained a reputation as a voice of righteousness.

He furthered that image with the dancehall-spiked anti-apartheid song "Free Africa, Free Mandela," from his 1989 album I&I Experience. He achieved a rare cross-over success in the United States in 1991, when he signed with Interscope Records and released the Little Steven Van Zandt-produced breakthrough Spirit of Love. That effort included his biggest international hit, "So Long Too Long," an uplifting anthem that opened with the exhortation, "Arise from your sleep Africa/ Arise from your sleep America/ There's work to be done Africa."

The song, which Fashek performed on tour while opening for Tracy Chapman and on The Late Show with David Letterman, directly paid homage to Marley's legacy of activist lyricism with lines such as, "Remember, remember, Marcus Garvey/ Who had a dream for you Africa/ Remember, remember, Martin Luther King/ Who had a dream for you America/ They say you are black, they say you are brown/ They say dem white, they say you are brown/ But only the Angels of God is white now/ Only the Angels of God is white."

In 2016, Fashek wrote the song "We Are Not Afraid," which was the soundtrack to an all-star fundraiser video for victims of religious and political violence around the world directed by photographer Bob Gruen that featured more than 200 artists, including Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Bruce Springsteen, Yoko Ono, Robert DeNiro, Sting, Patti Smith, Dr. Jane Goodall, Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, Chuck D,Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Darlene Love, Debbie Harry, Dion, Elvis Costello, Grandmaster Flash, Jeff Tweedy and Susan Sarandon, among others.

At press time the cause of Fashek's death was not released.

Nigerian singer Burna Boy paid tribute to one of his biggest influences, writing, "The lyrics to his song 'So Long, Too Long' remain true as a wake up call to Africans still today."

By Gil Kaufman


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