THE VOICE – UK
Interview by: Davina Morris
FOCUSED: Taj Weekes
SOME people make music for entertainment.
Taj Weekes is more about inspiring people to think about the world around them. The St. Lucia-born reggae singer, along with his band Adowa, has made it his mission to give a voice to the oppressed, and he’s earned much praise for it from many in the reggae fraternity.
The idea of making ‘sufferers music’ might sound a tad cliché. After all, Weekes isn’t the first reggae artist to be a messenger for the poor and downtrodden. But there’s something special about the talented singer that has meant his music has resonated with music fans and reggae professionals alike. His new album DEIDEM– meaning ‘all of us’– has been celebrated for it’s heartfelt look at the fragmentation of the world and the search to give everyone a voice in it.
Weekes’ selflessness is, perhaps, all the more poignant when one considers his own personal losses. A few years back, Weekes’ mother died of a heart attack. Within less than a year, his father also passed away. Weekes began to compile an album with songs that reflected his pain – but then he scrapped every single tune. “I was wallowing in my grief,” Weekes recalls. “And it did take time to overcome that grief. But eventually, I looked at it like: people are dying every day. Yes, I lost two people. But there are children dying every day. Those thoughts enabled me to put things into perspective. So I scrapped all of those songs and began writing songs about the world and not just myself.” He continues: “Whether it’s Darfur, the Middle East, global warming; there’s something going on in every part of the world and we’re trying to bring it all together on one album. No one is talking to each other. The album is designed to create conversation where people can come together.”
Weekes grew up the youngest of 10 children in a family where music was everpresent. By age five, he was singing in church and by 11 he was composing his own calypso music. His older brother’s immersion in Rastafari provided him with a spiritual awakening and a context for his burgeoning worldview. He then ran with that musical baton and went on to pen songs on issues facing modern-day society. The album track Orphans Cry, with its classic reggae feel, depicts the suffering and isolation of lost children, making it vivid and real, and more than an abstraction on the TV or in a newspaper. And the song, Since Cain, with its Biblical reference to the first act of violence, laments the endless cycle of brutality while asking what it will take for it to end. But Weekes is far more than a hippy-styled, ‘peace and love’ musical messenger. When he’s not making music, he’s equally committed to his vision of making the world a better place, through his non-profit organisation, The Orphan’s Cry Outreach. The charity is dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged children around the world, via music, football programmes and more.
With his dedication to such worthy issues, one wonders what he makes of reggae’s more carefree elements; party tunes, ‘gal’ tunes and the like. “I think there’s a place for everything,” he says. “Sometimes people want to dance and have a good time. But I think music should also uplift and educate people and draw their attention to some of the issues going on in the world around them.”
“With the more violent elements of the music… I don’t know what would possess a man to write a song about killing somebody else. But you know, that’s his vibration. That’s just not the type of music I choose to make.” With much to say musically, it’s a good thing Weekes was never made to feel that not being Jamaican would somehow make him not credible in the world of reggae. After all, there are some closed-minded folks who feel that music can only be authentic when it’s spawned from its birthplace.
“That has never been an issue for me. And I always find it interesting when people make that an issue because nobody tends to say that hip-hop artists can’t be authentic if they’re not from America.” “Of course, Jamaica is the foundation for reggae. But I see the music like a tree: its roots are in Jamaica, but its branches have outgrown the yard and the fruit has landed in other territories.” “It’s the same with soca: people used to think that if you weren’t from Trinidad, you couldn’t make authentic soca music.” “But then artists like Alison Hinds and Rupee and Kevin Lyttle came along to prove otherwise.”
“I write from the heart and I speak about issues I’m passionate about. I believe that’s what really matters.”
DEIDEM is out now on Jatta Records.