Interview by: Mark Wedel
KALAMAZOO – Taj Weekes and Adowa will bring roots reggae to Island Festival Saturday night.
Roots is the classic sound that leads one to think of Caribbean beaches, sun, ganja — a sound that might lead to an escapist mindset. But roots is also a conscious music, with serious messages about the world, Weekes said during a phone interview from his U.S. base in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In his video for “Hollow Display,” Weekes is on his home island of St. Lucia, surrounded by beautiful scenery and women, yet his voice is melancholy. It’s his one male/female relationship song — but obviously other things are on his mind. Other songs on his 2008 CD, “Deidem,” are about war, propaganda, orphans and tribulations from Hurricane Katrina-damaged Louisiana to Darfur.
Weekes will want his audience to dance and have a good time. He knows some will be there to party, not to listen to the messages in his songs. “There will always be party people. But if I can get at least a couple people to listen to the words I sing… You only need a couple people to change,” he said. “Peter Tosh once said, ‘You gotta draw them in with the rhythm first.’ And as they’re dancing, they listen. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
He doesn’t try to be a messenger, that’s just how he is, Weekes said. “Where I grew up, how I grew up, the people around me,” all influenced him.
He learned to write songs and sing calypso and reggae, and learned the Rastafari way of life on the island, but he eventually had to leave the tiny nation. “Mentally, I would be on 238 square miles. What I wanted to achieve musically, I could not have done it on the confines of that square footage.”
He moved to the New York area (it’s not his home, he said. “Home is in my head. I don’t care too much for material things”), where for the past decade his band Adowa had bucked the trend of hip-hop-influenced reggae about women’s rear ends and material things. Reggae is swinging back to the attitude of Bob Marley and Tosh, Weekes thinks.
“It’s a generational thing. We (the reggae world) had been in riddim stuff. But now we’re back to listening,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll achieve anything with any other kind of music… I think it’s time again for roots music.”
Weekes does more than just sing about troubles. He is in charge of his nonprofit, They Often Cry Outreach —www.theyoftencryoutreach.org.
TOCO works on improving the lives of children around the world. In early June, Weekes was in St. Lucia, delivering soccer equipment to youths there and planning a diabetes education project — the island has one of the highest rates of the disease in the world, Weekes said. He is also recording “Waterlogged Soul Kitchen,” with songs based on Katrina. TOCO will sell the album this year with proceeds going to children’s programs in New Orleans.
There are troubles all over the world, “and we’re the town criers, the musicians. I’m trying to keep up the town-crier tradition, pointing out the crisis, whether it is Louisiana or Darfur,” Weekes said.