Love Herb and Reggae may seem like an archetypical contemporary reggae album title, but Taj Weekes is not your archetypical contemporary reggae artist.
The youngest of 10 children, Weekes grew up in St. Lucia but moved to Toronto at 15 to live with family when the island nation couldn’t contain his ambition. When Toronto proved to be equally small, its musical scene too restricting, he moved to New York, where he launched his career with a newly formed backing band christened Adowa (named after a pivotal battle in the fight for Ethiopian independence in 1896).
The band will play the main stage of the Mariposa Folk Festival July 5; Weekes will also play a solo set July 4.
“I think we need to go back to the original message of the music,” Weekes told the Packet & Times in a recent interview. “The original message of the music was always love.”
On Love Herb and Reggae, Weekes and Adowa indirectly attack the stereotypes associated with most contemporary reggae music. For starters, the title doesn’t mean all of the songs are about pot.
“The herb that I talk about is a green living, a way of life. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme — going back to those kinds of things that brings us back to nature,” he said. “I don’t want people to get carried away with the herb in the title, to think that Taj is only talking about weed. I’m talking about everything green, everything that can sustain life.”
Nor are the songs homophobic.
Among the largest conflicts in the reggae world has been one with the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community. In recent years, many reggae artists have been denounced for their views on homosexuality and using derogatory slang in their lyrics. That’s hypocritical, Weekes believes. Rather, he has made a conscious effort to “reach out to people and to places where we’ve had, for lack of a better word, conflict,” he said.
“We preach one love, but then it’s not a true one love, because it’s divided. We’re saying these people are unacceptable because they’re living a particular lifestyle,” Weekes said. “How can you fault somebody for love? It might not be your kind of love, but it’s love.”
Weekes preaches a simple message: “Love your brother as yourself.” That expands into his humanitarian work, in both his official role with the United Nations as an UNICEF champion for children and his children’s charity, They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO).
“The charity work amplifies all of that because I’ve seen things I wouldn’t have seen if I didn’t have a charity to deal with under privileged and at-risk children,” he said.
His charity work has exposed him to epidemics in the Caribbean, such as child abuse and diabetes, and he hopes to open the eyes of more people as to what is happening.
“People go down on vacation and think it’s an 83-and-sunshine life,” he said. “We have our share of (problems) and it’s killing us, literally, unless we make a change.”
For more information on the festival, visit mariposafolk.com.
For more on Weekes, visit tajweekes.com.