Nigerian writer and journalist Azuka Jebose, who lives in the United States, talks with BLESSING ENENAITE about his most recent book about the late reggae icon Majek Fashek as well as other topics.
What inspired you to write the book, ‘Majek Fashek: Before and After the Rain’?
The inspiration to write this book came from the subject, Majek Fashek. My privileged relationship with him traced back to his days at Tabansi Records as an artiste and repertoire manager, alongside him being the lead guitarist and front man for the Jahstix Reggae Band in the 1980s, was a fantastic inspiration (for this book). I needed to capture those magical and complex moments with Majek and the Nigerian music scenes (back) then. I was a young freelance entertainment reporter, mostly a stringer for the PUNCH Entertainment Desk, anchored by my mentor, Ladi Ayodeji. A few years later, I became the entertainment editor of the Saturday Highlife pages and the entertainment editor of The PUNCH.
I thought if I had to write the memoir of one of the most iconic, yet, eccentric and brilliant musicians of my generation, I needed to go deeper into Nigeria’s music scenes before Majek, especially after the Civil War in the early 1970s and through the 1980s. This was the period when Majek manifested as an amazing singer, songwriter, guitarist, and frontman for a unique first Nigerian reggae music band with an engaging band name: Jahstix. So, ‘Majek Fashek Before and After the Rain’ is perhaps one of the few Nigerian books that explored the history of Nigerian music and entertainment scenes after the war.
How would you describe your relationship with the late singer?
My relationship with him was at times complicated and most times fascinating, especially during our early years as we were both struggling to make impacts in our different professions. Majek and I usually met at Tabansi Records back in the days at Oregun and Alausa junction (in Lagos) where many young artistes were waiting to be discovered, and I was nosing for fresh exclusive entertainment news and gossip. We, most times, ended up inside Goddy Tabansi’s (the then director-general of Tabansi Records) office and just sat, jived and listened to new demo tapes he produced for other young aspiring acts then such as Peterside Otong, Charlie Boy, Jide Obi, and Mike Okri, who were also always around us, including Stella Monye.
Felix Lebarty was a widely respected superstar, yet he came around and hung out with us. Some years later, after the release of Majek’s debut album, ‘Prisoner of Conscience’, which featured the monumental single hit, ‘Send Down the Rain’, our relationship soured. I watched his charming character and humanity charred by new success and management. I was a reporter and reported on some of those shenanigans, and my reports and gossip displeased him.
Did you get the consent of Majek’s family before writing a book on him?
No, I did not get the consent of the family. I didn’t need any family consent to write about my privileged experiences with a late iconic reggae music legend. What you will read in ‘Majek Fashek Before and After the Rain’ is a personal cherished experience I had with him. I have every right to write about my experiences with Majek. From his explosive arrival on the music scene to becoming an undisputed king of Nigerian reggae music, Majek’s life was a symphony of highs and lows. Unveiling the untold story of a musical maverick, I delved into the glory days when his resonant voice could heal wounds and mend souls. But beneath the spotlight, a relentless battle raged within him.
This memoir takes an unflinching look at the demons that haunted Majek – his tumultuous struggles with alcoholism and a hidden battle with undiagnosed schizophrenia. He fought not only for his place in the music world but also for his sanity.
In ‘Before and After the Rain’, I walked with Majek through the peaks and valleys of his life, from the euphoria of performing on the world stage, to the dark abyss of self-doubt and addiction. This is an intimate and breathtaking account that pulls no punches, revealing the human behind the legend. I was in the front row of those moments in the United States of America with him. I don’t need anyone’s approval to tell my story.
What do you hope to achieve with this work?
I hope it documents the early history of Nigerian music and also about one of its greatest musicians – Majek Fashek. I would also hope it triggers national conversations regarding mental health diseases such as schizophrenia (a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves).
Majek had a series of struggles with his health as he was said to be addicted to drugs. In what ways did you help him in this regard?
Majek was an alcoholic. I tried so many times to get him into rehabilitation, but he was always in denial. There is nothing anyone can do to addicts. The only person that can help an addict is the addict (himself). The addict has to recognise that he or she is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol and reach out for help. Otherwise, we are all wasting our time trying to force an unwilling addict into any rehabilitation treatment. Most of my fights with Majek came from my various appeals to him to seek intervention. You will read the most brazen attempt in the book and how he was conned out of it.
Is the book simply for online or is there a plan for the hard copy, and how do you intend to get more readers to buy it?
The book shall be first available as an E-book on Amazon, Kindle and Okada on November 18, 2023. Amazon and Kindle (will) make available hard copy orders too.
Do you intend to give any part of the proceeds from the book to Majek’s family?
No. I do not.
What were the challenges you faced while writing the book and how did you overcome them?
The initial reactions were negative from a few members of his family and friends who think they are entitled to the Majek story. They were scared of the other side of Majek, but his life and challenges were no secrets.
Aside from this work, what are your other works?
I am a storyteller. I have written two fictional books – ‘Waiting for my Husband to Die’ and ‘Victims of the City’.
Can you say something about your family, educational and career trajectory?
I am married. We (my wife and I) are blessed with five girls and a son. My oldest daughter is 29 years old and she is a researcher. I migrated to the USA in 1989 and live in North Carolina, where I manage my business. I have lived here since 1990 and attended the Friday Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the early 1990s.
What are the memorable moments you had with Majek?
Every moment spent with Majek was complexly memorable. He was quite a unique and charming character. I used to call him John the Baptist.
Who were the people who made this book a success?
The people who made this book a success included my niece, Temitope Marcus, who edited the last script of the book and assumed the role of the publisher. She’s responsible for the book’s publication and everything else. She’s been an amazing believer in this project. My secondary school classmate, Dr Nduka Otiono, pushed for this book to be written even while I was being blasted by COVID-19 in 2020. My brother, Uzor Uzoatu; veteran actor, Richard Mofe-Damijo; the awesome Jahstix members – Black O’Rice and Amos McCroy; Emma Ogosi, Laolu Akins and Femi Akintunde-Johnson also contributed to the success of the book.