An album defined by stan culture, conjecture and metaphysics. Majek Fashek was just 25 years old when 'Prisoner of Conscience' dropped in 1988. It was in the thick of oppression for different forms of blackness. Nigeria battled to wriggle free of colonialism only to then be stuck in corruption birthed by FESTAC '77 and military rule.
South Africa was stuck in apartheid as international observers finally chose to look into the African nation. Jamaica, the tilling ground for Reggae music still had loathsome reverence for 'Babylon.' In so many ways, Reggae was the soundtrack for black consciousness, cultural identity and spiritual awakening across the world.
Fashek had just split from the three-man group, Jastix when Prisoner of Conscience dropped. He had also changed his name from Rajesh Kanal to Majek Fashek and he delivered an album with several topical heads united by important thoughts for blackness.
'Genesis' might not have been the opening track of the album, but it's a testament to 'beginning' from the perspective of a Rastafarian making conscious music. It was also one of the earliest Afro-fusion songs.
With a pop arrangement, electronic synths and soul elements, Majek Fashek delivers an ode to spirituality and a dedication to the kronos. In his belief, he saw music as the beginning of Jah's creation.
'Send Down The Rain' might have been the soundtrack of an entire time, but its substance is ethereal.
'Rain' was not just literal by interpretation, 'Rain' was symbolism for mercy and liberation towards wealth and success from a place of cultural pain. 'I've Got The Feeling' is sonically similar to songs from the five-album run of British band, Sting and The Police. It's a rock song delivered in Reggae format.
A tale of defiance, it gleans the importance of music as its object of liberation. Some might argue, but as a sonic experience with a balance of substance, 'I've Got The Feeling' is the best song on Prisoner of Conscience. 'Hey Mr. Morning' is like a fusion of Afrobeat bass guitars with Reggae percussion.
Bob Marley, the poster boy of Reggae had passed away just eight years before this album, but Fashek revisited his music with an Africanized version of 'Redempion Song.'
As at the time of penning this article, the world is still reeling from the effects of police brutality, either propelled by racism in America or abuse of office in Nigeria. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are yet another set of black people murdered at the hands of law enforcement and victim profiling.
17-year-old Tina Ezekwe was killed by trigger-happy members of the Nigerian Police Force. In 1988, Fashek decried 'Police Brutality' in South Africa, Nigeria and across the world. This was the same year that NWA released the aggressive tune, 'F**K The Police.' The world has still not healed.
On the same album, another track with contemporary resonance is ‘Africa, Keep Your Culture.’ A rife issue in the current world is the ‘Nigerian dream’ of tweeting your love for Nigeria from a western colony. While it’s a valid idea propelled by a need to excel with one’s children, it’s also a bedrock for the death of Africanism.
Even in Nigeria, culture is being wilfully butchered at the hands of wokeness and enlightenment. While some elements of African culture are recidivist and oppressive, not all parts of African culture that we currently seek to jettison are recidivist and oppressive. Stripping away our culture is buying our children a lack of identity.
The title-track closes out the album. On it, Fashek uses ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ as a double-edged sword with which he highlighted how his conscience precludes him from fighting a dangerous battle and how abuse of office makes him a prisoner to the conscience of the corrupt politician.
The meaning of ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ as an album title is encapsulated in the outro-title-track. While the album is eight tracks long with several topical/thematic heads, it’s all woven together by the common struggle from a similar root cause. However, we cannot afford to lose ourselves to the struggle even though we must be free.
This was the earliest making of Majek Fashek’s legend. It should also be how he is remembered. We cannot forget the negative parts, but the world must never let it overshadow the positives of musical genius.
In the words of Kole Abe, a teenager who was in Ado-Ekiti when this album dropped, "The album was a phenomenon. Ado-Ekiti was under the Regency of Omotunde George when Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek and one other artist performed at Oluyemi Kayode Stadium.
"We had heard of acceptance of the album across Lagos and other parts of the country, but it was that day that I knew that Majek was a star. He was not just amazing, he was also handsome and green with the voice of a canary.
"His music was also strategic as it blended elements of alternative with reggae and African pop/folk percussion. While listening to Majek Fashek, you would forget momentary worries and just soak it all in. It's also to his credit that he had the biggest song of the year when bigger artists were mainstays of our mainstream."
Two years later, Fashek’s third album was released under Interscope Records. This is yet another clear indication that ‘Africa to the world’ is not just a myth, it's a momentary conjecture of ignorance and blatant delusions.