Tuesday, 17 March 2009
BY CHUKS NWANNE
He was in the league of young journalists that pioneered the brand of entertainment reporting called celebrity journalism in the country. Then, he was with The Punch Newspapers, running Saturday Highlife –– a page that became very popular among readers due to its gossip columns.
With many years on the beat, Azuka Jebose Molokwu played major role in the career of most young Nigerian musicians, who trooped in and out his office, seeking media publicity, which they most times got. So, when Molokwu speaks about any Nigerian artiste, be rest assured you are listening to a very reliable source.
However, the Delta State-native, who has been in the US for years now, as a reggae music presenter with WSHA 88.9Fm, North Carolina, breezed into the country recently to stage his father’s funeral rites. He was briefly at The Guardian and we got talking. Along the line, the condition of top Nigerian Reggae artiste, Majek Fashek, came up; Molokwu had known Majek back in the day.
“I’ve known Majek way back; we used to hang-out in Tabansi records, where he was handling voices. I was a young reporter then, going round for stories and we met there. We later became friends and he would come around The Punch. If you look at the late Sonny Okosun’s musical video, Ziga Ha Ozi released around 1982, both of us were sitting side by side Sonny in that video,” he informed.
From meeting occasionally at Tabansi Studios and The Punch premises, the relationship of both men became closer, sometimes hanging out at the Fela’s Shrine. Before long, Majek wormed himself onto Fela’s stage.
“Fela was jailed around 1983 and they needed somebody to be opening up for Femi Kuti at the Shrine. Somehow, Majek and his group got the slot,” he noted. “I would go to Anthony Village on Sunday afternoons and we would walk to and fro the Shrine, for him to perform before Femi,” he hinted.
Leveraging on the popularity he garnered performing at the shrine, Majek got a contract from Tabansi Records, which saw the release of his album, Prisoners of Conscience, the work that brought him to limelight.
Having relocated to the United States, their relationship went low; there were no face-to-face meetings as it used to be due to distance, but sometimes in 1991, the Little Patience singer was featured in David Leatherman’s show in the US, which was one of the biggest TV shows on CBS as at then.
“Majek performed live in that show. I was like, ‘wow! Majek on David Leatherman’s Show?’ You know, David had all the movie superstars. If a governor of a state can go to David Leatherman to announce his candidacy… then Arnold Swaznegger, even Barack Obama was there and Oprah… all these top people,” he quipped. “So, for Majek to be on the show ahead of all these people was indeed amazing. It doesn’t matter if he had just few minutes on the show; for me, it was the ultimate for him. But all crashed years later; I’m still trying to find out why and how,” Azuka said with a changed mood.
As a bosom friend, Molokwu never ceased to pave way for Majek, who at a point, went into oblivion, until in 2006 when he returned with Little Patience, produced by Charles Novia of November Records.
“I came back at the top of the album released by my friend, Charles Novia. Charles and I met; at that time, Thisday Music Festival was around the corner. So, I called Nduka (Obaigbena), who quickly put Majek on the bill thereby bringing him home in about seven to eight years to perform,” he remarked.
BACK in the US, Molokwu and other Nigerians had rallied round Majek, who is presently the opposite of his old self.
“He’s a fantastic guy; Majek is really a fantastic person,” Molokwu confirmed. “He has issues; he is alcoholic and I’ve seen him in his extremes –– worst and best forms. I’ve done the best I could with my friend Charles Novia.”
He paused, adjusted his seat, then he continued: “People have helped Majek; a lot of people such as Jimmy King in New York, Victor Essiet, Ras Kimono, myself and Charles Novia. We’ve all helped him at one time or the other.”
Having tried everything possible without success to convince the Send Down The Rain singer to quit drinking and face his career, Molokwu resigned to fate, until the day he saw him in Maryland, US, three years ago, where he opened for Tuface Idibia.
“I wept the night I saw him”, he said looking very moody. “I cried for four hours, as I drove from Maryland to my house. When I got home, I turned on the TV and on it was Arts and Entertainment (A&E)”.
“There’s something called intervention. This is a programme that counsel people with drug and alcoholism problems,” he explained. “I wrote a fascinating letter to the producer to see if Majek could be invited to the perogramme. After three days, an e-mail was sent to me, inviting Majek on the show.”
Was he on the show?
“Well, they said they would give me a camera to do a documentary on Majek, but that we should not tell him that the documentary was for him to go for treatment. However, they insisted that Majek must call them, which he never did. I kept asking him, ‘Majek, call these people, call these people.”
Tired of pressing Majek to make a move, Molokwu decided to play a fast one on the musician.
“I had to call my friend in Chicago, Pamela Mojekwu, to pretend as the secretary calling from the A&E office, asking Majek to call them now,” he revealed.
And he called?
“When Majek called, he was asking to be paid; these people don’t pay you,” he informed. “They just chronicle your life and after that, they tell you surprisingly right there, to go and do the treatment. They can give you up to 90 days, but Majek never took that advantage,” he frowned.
For the journalist, Majek could have been a better replacement of Fela Anikulapo, who championed the cause of the common man through his music. But for his condition…
“After Fela’s death, a vacuum was created for the disenfranchised Nigerians; there was the need for a voice of the people. Majek could have been that replacement because he has the charisma, the charm, the language, the style and the personality. He’s a people’s person. Despite his situation, he walks down the street and people still admire him, they adore him, they want to care for him, but he didn’t want to care for himself.”
If you think Majek’s present condition has got something to do with drugs, then hear Molokwu, his close associate:
“A lot of people think he’s on drugs; I’ve never seen him with drugs unless you consider marijuana as drug, which is debatable. When you drink brandy – hardcore liquor – Monday through Sunday, it will have an adverse effect on your liver; on your body, your physical appearance and behaviour.
“That’s what happens when you wake up in the morning and you brush your teeth with alcohol; you eat your breakfast with alcohol; you eat your lunch with alcohol; you eat your dinner with alcohol and take your shower with it, what do you expect?”
Recalling his experience in the hands of Majek at the John F Kennedy Airport, United States in 2006, on their way to attend Thisday Music Festival in Lagos, Molokwu nearly broke down in tears.
“I stayed 12 hours at the John F Kennedy Airport waiting for Majek; what saved us was the change of flight departure time to later time of the day to enable Beyonce and Jay Z’s crew to meet up with us; it was a chartered flight,” he noted. “I never got hold on Majek, so, they moved the departure to 10 -10.30 as against 3.00; they had to delay the plane till 10.45, when I walked down to pick up Majek.”
“Before then,” Molokwu continued, “I was calling Charles Novia in Nigeria, I was calling Ras Kimono to track him (Majek) down. I had like four different people looking for Majek.”
And where was he at that point?
“I don’t know,” he responded with laughter.
Molokwu sipped his drink, then he said: “Can you spend 24 hours, thrown out of the plane and you have to wait for the next 24 hours for another flight? I was once thrown out of the plane for Majek, so, that he could get himself before the next plane.”
While coming for Thisday concert?
“No, it was when we were coming for the Calabar Christmas Carnival in December 2006,” he noted. “I’ve been in close contact with him, trying to help him out. But the truth with alcoholics is that, you cannot tell the victim to stop; he has to accept the fact that he has hit the end of the road, and then, he will cry out for help. When he cries out for help and go for treatment, he will be saved. But until then, no amount of pushing and prayers can help the person.”
Despite all efforts to save Majek, the rainmaker considered himself ‘a social drinker.’
“That’s the way he sees himself,” Molokwu said. “In fact, at a point, I told him, ‘look Majek, if anything happens to you now, the media will come after me. You must get in touch with me within 48 hours, so, that I will know that you are breathing somewhere.’ That’s the way we’ve kept our relationship because he’s in Atlanta Georgia and I’m in North Carolina; sometimes he goes to New York to see his family.”
BESIDES his drunkenness, there’s the other side of Majek, which many people are yet to discover.
“What people don’t know about Majek is that he’s a very passionate man; he’s a very wonderful family man, who doesn’t joke with his children and wife; he’s married to one wife. His family comes first in everything he does,” Molokwu said.
Talk of kindness, “Majek is so kind that if he has $300 now and you tell him you need $299, he will give you the money and he will say, ‘this man needs the money, Jebose, let him go, Jah will provide.’ That’s why most of us tag along with him, because we see the other side of him.”
For Molokwu, all hope is not lost in the effort to get Majek back to his real self.
“Majek is a very creative man; he can sit down here and write a song and create the beat for you. That’s why people such as Charles Novia and I keep trying to help him, because we know, he’s a wonderful person. We just want him to get well; we hope we will in our time.” He added, “Charles Novia is doing a movie on him; you should watch out for that.”