By Ted Boothroyd
I figure it takes courage for a singer-songwriter to put out a live album.
A live album documents – in an unforgiving, public kind of way – the exact point where humble art meets brash showbiz. Where intellect meets entertainment. Where solitary craft (song writing) meets public emotion (adoring fans) and the imperfect realities of performance meet idealistic expectations of the Big Event.
On the evidence of many previous examples, those massed meetings of paradoxes can become messy collisions, with art usually at the bottom of the pile-up. But it comes as no surprise that with Pariah in Transit, Taj Weekes and his band Adowa easily maneuver their way through the dangers. It seems that Taj’s inner introvert is on very good terms with his inner extrovert. The poet and the entertainer co-exist.
So what are the specific dangers that had to be avoided? For one, the spontaneity of the performance has to reflect the same sparkle the song had when brand new. It’s called soul. You dare not betray the tedium of rehearsals or the dulling effect of multiple repetitions in gig after gig, particularly when this particular version is to become the forever-enduring one. The technical elements have to be right on, too; poor sound quality can completely screw up the artistic side of any live album. Then there’s the ego/diva/star factor: is the emphasis on the showmanship or on the music, on showing off or on communicating?
Let me offer reassurance. The performances come across as thoroughly soulful – though all but one of the songs are familiar from previous studio recordings, mostly Deidem, the presentation is fresh and unique in each case, with the band in absolutely top form. It’s called professionalism.
As for sound, no screw-ups, crisp and full. And, especially for a live reggae album, this one is refreshingly free of egomaniacal displays. Taj is a relaxed, confident performer; obviously he is secure enough in his talents that he doesn’t need to pander to his audience and then bask in whatever adoration he can drag out of them. (Anyway, it would seem unlikely for someone so well admired as a true humanitarian to suddenly go all self-indulgent on us.)
You may conclude that in its particular coming together of art and showbiz, Pariah in Transit lacks some of the usual trappings of a live album. Yes, it does, but they are ones you won’t miss a bit. Unless, of course, you like pompous drum-roll introductions, jolting disruptions to the musical flow, silly “Are you feeling irie?” exhortations, and gratuitous, melodiously deficient sing-alongs. Would that every musician pondering a live recording realized that what might be tolerable at the original concert, or even enjoyable, can clutter up the subsequent album. It, after all, has to stand strong on its own terms and be worthy of repeated playbacks by the listener at home.
Forget, then, what is “usual” when it comes to live albums. What Taj Weekes and Adowa have given us is not the usual. There are meetings, but no collisions. Entertainment shares the stage with music, music with poetry, poetry with humanity, humanity with entertainment. The required courage yielded a sturdy balance; if any element does come out on top, it’s the art, appropriately enough. (Although, by the way, the audience clearly WERE feeling irie, even though they weren’t prodded into saying so.)
by Michael Kuelker
From the Caribbean island of St. Lucia comes a package marked “reggae music 501(c)3.” It looks deceptively like a compact disc but it’s really a set of boxes one inside the other inside the other, each opening up to a facet of reggae culture.
Pariah in Transit is the new live album by singer/guitarist/bandleader Taj Weekes, who is directing the proceeds from the project to a registered humanitarian organization, They Often Cry Outreach, which he founded in 2007. TOCO promotes health and sports among disadvantaged youth among itsmany projects in a wide range of community building efforts.
I’ve listened closely to the artist’s three studio albums and to his band on three occasions (@La Onda and 2720). As a songwriter he is, I think, among reggae’s finest, a penetrating poet who is averse to easy rhyme, platitude and simple didacticism. And his band – remarkably cohesive, tight like a sunburned forehead.
Still, I am not automatically turned on by live albums. Even when it’s artists who are really good live, Marley, the Clash or Howlin’ Wolf, whomever, my go-to selections wind up being an artist’s studio recordings (and usually early or mid-career). Live albums are souvenirs, documents of a time, faithful to a sound (usually), wonderful to behold (sometimes), but in my collection only occasionally at the ‘igher ights. This disc by Weekes definitely skews to the high end of the live album spectrum.
Concise and compelling intro to the artist, Pariah in Transit is crisply recorded sans overdub, a lesson in band dynamics and tasteful restraint, the music coming like good reggae should, light like a feather and heavy as lead.
Adowa are Weekes (lead vocals, guitar), Xavier Adoni (guitar), Burt “Radss” Desiree (bass), John Hewitt (keyboards) and Cornel Marshall (drums). Backing vocals on the album vary between Valerie Kelley, Angela Weekes, Paulette Kerr and J’anaee Wilkerson. The recordings were made in Columbia, MO; Chicago, IL; St. Lucia and BC Canada. It is a classy package and all for a good cause.
We expect live albums to extend the studio versions of an artist’s songs and we get them here – though not in excess and, best of all, not because Weekes & company run things long by crowd-stoking call-and-response or instrumental noodling. This is an album of songs, very good ones woven tightly and wordically wise. Everyone plays well; I have to send out special thanks to Adoni for staying the reggae course and not harshing my mellow by soloing rock and roll style.
Weekes is a Rasta musician very much of the 21st century whose songs are firmly within the roots tradition but stay free of emulating any particular influence. Lyrically, he is his own man; for instance, in “Life” Weekes repeats the line “Bow abide in strength relieve me,” nestling in little koan, “arches sorely grieve me” and “archers everywhere.” You need a little time with this music.
Weekes explained to me in an interview last summer that he sees the function of the artist in society as that of a town crier On “Rain Rain” he refers to Hurricane Katrina without citing it by name. He’s even tackled genocide in Sudan with “Janjaweed,” though it is not on the live album, a subject virtually everybody in reggae took a pass on. A lot of the cuts on Pariah in Transit are Rasta in orientation and rendered in a universal tongue, such as “Seek the spaces in my thought / to unlearn what I’ve been taught” (“Angry Language”), which is really a description of realizing an alternative consciousness, familiar to Rastas realizing their inborn conception or anyone re-orienting their lives.
At other moments the artist gets Rasta-specific, such as the passage in “Scream Out Mellow” in which he proclaims “King Selassie is God Almighty.” That’s the central tenet. In the coda of “Jordan,” which is previously unreleased, he iterates and reiterates, “the laws against marijuana and the force against marijuana / has done more harm than marijuana has ever done to anyone.” In this we have a secular message regarding a Rasta sacrament and an idea on which respondents in American polls are split 50/50.
Pariah in Transit will have a long shelf life, though I highly recommend that you take it off the shelf and get it in regular rotation in home and automobile. For those counting nickels or keeping score, six of the album’s ten tracks come from 2008’s Deidem, with two from Hope and Doubt (2005) and one from his most recent album, A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen (2010). The song selection is faultless, although I’d have also welcomed the inclusion of “Against the Machine,” a non-album track he contributed to the Occupy movement (Occupy This Album) which is well worth seeking out.
In the summer of 2012, I witnessed one of the most memorable concerts of a lifetime when Taj Weekes & Adowa rolled through town.
A few weeks before the show I obtained their latest release, "A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen," but had yet to hear their first two discs and wasn’t really prepared for what was in store. I’m telling ya, they were roots to the core. Even though I was unfamiliar with almost all of the tunes it was still an incredibly magical evening.
I immediately picked up their 2006 debut, "Hope And Doubt," and their sophomore effort, "Deidem"(released two years later). Both are excellent but the latter is one of the most powerful discs ever released. Absolutely crucial.
Fast forward to "Pariah In Transit," a fantastic set culled from their stellar live performances in 2011 and 2012 while touring the U.S. and Canada. Its release date is set for April 9th.
Taj Weekes hails from St. Lucia and is an exceptional talent; truly one of the greatest and most intelligent songwriters of his generation. Along with his band (Delroy Golding on percussion, Adoni Xavier on guitar, John Hewitt on keys, Cornel Marshall on drums and Radss Desiree on bass) and with the sweet harmonies of a trio of female background vocalists, they comprise one of the best touring bands today. Chris Laybourne on sax, Craig Besthoff on harmonica and Aljam on guitar also lend their considerable talents to some of these songs.
"Pariah In Transit" clocks in at just under one hour and shows the band in top form. Kicking off with "Angry Language," it’s back-to-back classics, closing down with "Scream Out Mellow." Six of the tracks are from "Deidem," two are from "Hope And Doubt," one is from "A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen" and they’ve even included an unreleased song entitled "Jordan."
If Taj Weekes & Adowa come into your town (or anywhere in the vicinity), do not miss them. They’re seriously that good and you’re guaranteed to be blown away. Until then, though, check out this live disc, hear for yourself and get ready.
"For some years live reggae music from Jamaica has been celebrated. This should be too."
When the best roots reggae music made on islands outside Jamaica is mentioned, most people’s attention falls on the Virgin Islands: the didactic seminars of Midnite, the broken toned roots-pop of Pressure, the quavering unity pleas for Ras Batch. But a share of the acclaim is also deserved by St Lucian-born Taj Weekes, who has harnessed the poetic spirit of a Derek Walcott to a Bob Marley rebelliousness and a haunting voice like its frequent subject matter: the child hardened and wise beyond his years.
Fans of his albums with NYC based groupAdowa, 'Hope and Doubt', 'Deidem', and 'A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen' will know that they are ruthlessly consistent in the recording studio. However, many followers outside the US will not have witnessed their live shows (at the time of writing Weekes has had to cancel a date in Paris due to foot surgery). A 2008 recording of an appearance at Mexico’s Taos Molar festival remedied this to a degree. But now Weekes has announced 'Pariah In Transit', a forthcoming album recorded at various venues across the Northern American countries, which United Reggae has been sent as an exclusive preview in un-mastered form. The title, according to Weekes, refers to his perceived outsider status in the reggae industry and the hustle and bustle of travelling the lands purveying their musical wares.
The majority of the songs are from the 'Deidem' era and represent Weekes’ writing at its most musically and lyrically bleak. The only major key selection is post Hurricane Katrina reaction Rain Rain (on 'A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen' he began to marry harrowing messages to more optimistic sounding melodies – allowing them to sneak under the radar into people’s lives). Drummer Cornel Marshall slows down and speeds up the tempo record-turntable-style on the predetermination ska of Since Cain(interestingly this month’s outstanding debut from Jamaica’s Jah9 features the same trick) while the rhythm to eschatological stepper For Today seems to float on air. There is nothing that roots purists would call inauthentic about this music – but Taj andAdoni Xavier’s dual guitar attack and unique sense of lyrical complexity and minor key gloom, make this reggae that many a rock or metal fan could embrace. he album starts with a Santana Black Magic Woman-like crescendo that opens Angry Language – and closes with the full-on axe shredding of final track and affirmation of Selassie’s divinity,Scream Out.
Captured in small venues through the mixing desk, the sound is remarkably clear (although this comes at a price – the crowd is only really heard between the songs). Some of the performances feature Chris Laubourne’s saxophone and some don’t. In its current state it all sounds a bit quiet when part of a digital mp3 player’s loudness war – which will likely be resolved when the mastering is done. In fact, the only real criticism is that more tracks from 'A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen' could have been featured as the set-list is quite similar in places to the Taos Molar show.
Considering the wealth and depth of meaning in Weekes’ and Adowa’s work this review’s conclusion is a comparatively prosaic one: that they can deliver what’s on record on stage. For some years now live reggae music from Jamaica has been enthusiastically celebrated. This should be too.
Pariah in Transit is released on April 9th
"Pariah In Transit" by Taj Weekes & Adowa [Jatta Records]
The exceedingly popular Taj Weekes & Adowa from out of St. Lucia are in next with their latest creation and the first of two live albums on today's post, "Pariah In Transit". Billed as their first live set (although there is an older  from the Taos Solar Music Festival), the album is reportedly set to be featured as a compilation from various performances of the band's, over a period of time. Also, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the album will also go to charity (which has always been of importance to Weekes). Taj Weekes & Adowa have become very popular throughout the years and although I've never been their biggest fan, something tells me that now is a good time to get on board. Join me and pick up "Pariah In Transit" when it reaches.Releases on April 9CD + Digital [I THINK]