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Wednesday
May302012

LYRICAL WARRIOR, MAN OF THE WORLD

Taken from Carribean Transit 

 

‘Let your vibes be high and your message mighty.’  These are the words of singer-songwriter Taj Weekes. Born in 1969, Weekes has created a record label; provides lead vocals, rhythm and acoustic guitar for his band Taj Weekes and Adowa; produced three critically acclaimed albums; written a wealth of poetry and founded a not-for-profit charity that works tirelessly in the Caribbean.

Taj Weekes was born and raised in St. Lucia; an island nestled between Barbados, Martinique and St. Vincent, home to several successful artists. Weekes was the youngest of ten children in an artistically centred family. He began singing in church at the age of five and just four years later formed a band with his brothers; performing in local talent shows in St. Lucia. Music was ever-present in the Weekes’ family household, ‘There was always singing somewhere, if my dad wasn’t singing, then my sister was and my brother was.’ Weekes adds that the children used to line up in the living room and sing to their parents (Taj Weekes, Essence of an Artist, YouTube). It was a somewhat idyllic childhood, with the Caribbean landscapes, flora and fauna, playing a large part in that: ‘Island life for me was absolutely wonderful [...] A never ending summer, beaches at my disposal, fresh fruits and vegetables and unlimited freedom to play football, cricket, fly my kite (Interview with L. Haynes, February 2012).

As often is the case with small-island artists, Taj Weekes felt confined by the borders of St. Lucia and this feeling prompted his departure to North America: ‘I needed to experience a world beyond 238 square miles’ Weekes continues, ‘I had travelled inter-island as a child but apart from the lay of the land, the islands were basically the same’  For Weekes, the transition from St. Lucia to North America was not a shock to the system, he adds, ‘to a teenage mind nothing is really a shocker, at least not to my teenage mind’ (Interview with L. Haynes, February 2012). It was in North America that Weekes formed his band Taj Weekes and Adowa as well as the record label Jatta Records. The band was formed in 2004 and consists of six other members from all over the Caribbean; something that Weekes says gives the group a unique twist: ‘Everybody kind of bring their little vibe into it’ (Taj Weekes, Essence of an Artist, YouTube).

Taj Weekes and Adowa have had three albums to date, gaining critical acclaim across the globe. The debut album Hope and Doubtimmediately set the band apart from other reggae artists on the scene. Garage Band said that the album ‘shines like a beacon among the gray of contemporary reggae’. Music Shopper deemed Hope and Doubt as ‘honest, positive, reflective, realistic and rich’. With the groundbreaking first album comes the daunting task of producing another equally successful follow-up album. This seemed effortless for Taj Weekes and Adowa. Their second album Deidem was listed as one of the ‘Ten Great Albums by Non-Marleys’ by the Houston Chronicle. The band went from strength to strength and 2010 saw the release of A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen, the title of which is a reference to the severe floods that devastated parts of Louisiana because of Hurricane Katrina. Naming this album after a major disaster is illustrative of Weekes’ urge to bring to the fore current events. As the singer has said, ‘I write from the heart and I speak about issues that move me’ and ‘Life is enough influence.’ Garage Band commented accordingly, stating that Taj Weekes was more about ‘inspiring people to think about the world around them’. On A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen, for example, there are tracks about prevailing violence, the glorification of war, the power of Mother Nature and destruction at the hands of natural disasters. ‘Janjaweed’, the band’s most recently released single, commemorates the birth of Southern Sudan. The song’s title, of course, is a term used to describe the armed militias in South Sudan, responsible for mass violence and corruption. In the official video for ‘Janjaweed’, Taj Weekes and Adowa use first class animation to put a metaphorical spin on the subject matter. Here, the Janjaweed is symbolised by a malignant seed, which infests the land, spreading like an uncontrollable disease.

Weekes was always conscious of doing his own thing as a singer songwriter though he is open about his influences and cites Caribbean icons like Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow: ‘They were like town criers telling the stories of the day’, which is something that Weekes sees himself as doing, ‘We tell the stories of the day [...] awake the town and tell them mentally [...] in our time we are bombarded with so much information that the critical information gets lost in the muddle (Interview L. Haynes, February 2012). Weekes’ musical upbringing had a lasting impression on him and his output:  ‘We got a really good musical education in St. Lucia’, he states, ‘because of the unformatted radio stations’. This meant that Weekes was exposed to a huge range of music including country, classical, rock and reggae. Although Taj Weekes and Adowa are classified as a reggae band, Weekes is reluctant to consider himself as a reggae artist, stating ‘I consider myself more a singer songwriter, music is music to me, whatever genre will carry the message across’ (Taj Weekes, Essence of an Artist).  Weekes’ song ‘Against the Machine’ features on Occupy This Album, alongside Yoko Ono and Tom Morello. This album supports the Occupy Wall Street Movement; something that Weekes feels strongly about, having taken part in the occupation with thousands of other supporters.

Taj Weekes and Adowa. Photograph courtesy of Taj Weekes.

Music forms an integral part of Taj Weekes’ charity work too. In fact, the title of one song ‘Orphans Cry’ (from the group’s second album) inspired the name for Weekes’ not-for-profit organisation, They Often Cry Outreach. The charity mainly concentrates its efforts in the Caribbean. TOCO is dedicated to improving the lives of those children that are orphaned, at risk, or underprivileged in some way. The charity uses a variety of sports, health and enrichment programs, whilst also bringing awareness of global issues such as poverty, global warming, HIV/AIDs and diabetes, particularly prevalent in the region. TOCO Soccer was launched in St. Lucia in 2009 and aims to encourage confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline and health. TOCO Health forms a major part of the charity and its focus. One of its aims is to raise awareness of the diabetes epidemic in the Caribbean. As it states on the TOCO website, St. Lucia has one of the highest rates of diabetes per capita, with 28.1% of the population having high blood sugar and 8.1% of the population being diabetic. In November 2009, the charity raised funds to buy 2,700 blood glucose testers and bring them to St. Lucia. TOCO are currently campaigning to make these items readily available on the island and distributed to those who cannot afford them. The charity has also worked with LifeBeat in the United States of America, to help increase awareness and understanding of HIV/AIDs as well as distribute condoms and information leaflets. They Often Cry Outreach currently work in St. Lucia, Haiti and Trinidad and the intention is to move to other parts of the Eastern Caribbean.

TOCO in Trinidad. Photograph courtesy of Taj Weekes.

Like a man that never rests, Taj Weekes has also found time to write a book, which consists of poetry, fragments of songs, random thoughts and even social networking postings. For him, writing poetry is less restrictive than that of song writing, ‘In song writing, I have to abridge my thoughts and sometimes make them rhyme’ (Interview with L. Haynes, February 2012). Weekes’ verse addresses a variety of subjects such as an untitled piece about the Crucifixion:

There’s an ancient story told
Of a man thin loins clothed
How a twinkling star did shine
For he came to save mankind
And the world spun
For redemption had begun
For the world’s child
On a green hill was crucified
 Scream out mellow
 We scream out mellow lullabies.
 

 These lines have a refreshing simplicity. Weekes is not afraid to tackle big subjects and much like his songs, he delivers powerful messages, encouraging the listener to be a part of the world around them. As a lyrical warrior, man of the world, Weekes reminds us once again: ‘Let your vibes be high and your message mighty’. 

 

Music to inspire. Photograph courtesy of Taj Weekes.