Taken from the Telegraph
ST. LOUIS — One love. It’s much more than a song. For Rastafarians, it’s a creed. And for reggae musician Taj Weekes it’s the way to live his life.
Weekes and his band Adowa will play Friday Sept. 12 at the Gramophone in St. Louis. The show starts at 9 p.m.
Weekes will be performing music from his upcoming album, “Love Herb Reggae,” but for the silver-voiced reggae master from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, it’s about much more than music.
“I’ve heard a lot about homophobic rastas,’” Taj Weekes recalled. “I realized other people make that assumption about all reggae musicians. But I would rather see two men loving each other than a man beating a woman. That is what ‘One Love’ means to me. You cannot define love so easily for other people.”
At the same time, Weekes challenges popular conceptions about “herb.”
“Herb means everything healthy,” Weekes said. “Herb is tea and sage and parsley. Hemp is an herb with no THC. Herb is sustainability and vitality. Herb is not about GMOs or dropping out on drugs. It’s engaging in a healthy life and it tasting good.”
With band members coming from all over the Caribbean, from Jamaica to Dominica and Barbados to St. Lucia, it’s a pan-Caribbean sound, all of them growing up listening to different native music and bringing their experience to the mix. Music has been a vital part of Weekes’s life since he was a child. Back then, he and his three older brothers would line up at night in their St. Lucia home.
“We’d sing to my parents, the seventies music that was on the radio. Then my dad would sing to us. But I never realized that this was what I was going to do with my life,” he said.
That came later, after his brothers became Rastafarians and Weekes followed in their footsteps, learning about the philosophy.
“There was a reverence to it, talking about love. All I saw and heard was love with them, even when they were being brutalized by the government and the people. They taught me about I and I; the I of the spirit and the I of the body,” Weekes said.
It’s the idea that informed his life ever since. For Weekes that means spreading the message of love in his music.
“In the last ten years a new breed of reggae has come along that’s moved away from the idea of non-judgmental love,” Weekes noted. “They deride people who love a different gender or person. We’ve been preaching ‘One Love’ forever, yet there are too many people pointing fingers. One love welcomes and unites. It doesn’t dictate or divide. I love everyone, but for too long I was silent about it. Everyone’s welcome at my table. Who am I to define love? We don’t need to be good for God’s sake, we need to be good for goodness’ sake.”
Love and reggae are two strong pillars for Weekes. The third is herb. But not only the marijuana so often associated with Rastas.
“We’ve gone past that,” Weekes insisted. “That’s just a sensational story. When I grew up with them, the Rastas used fresh herbs in everything, in tea, in meals. All kinds of herbs. Hemp, and parsley and sage, thyme, everything that will make you better. I work with a hemp business, Good Seed Hemp. We’re doing something good for the planet — hemp used to be a huge crop. Now people think it’s bad, but it’s not. It has so many uses. And with the hemp movement, we are finding sustainable ways to make things that do not destroy the land or our bodies.”
Weekes ‘s children’s charity, They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO), a US-based nonprofit organization, is dedicated to improving the lives of Caribbean children through sports, health and enrichment programs. The organization works to raise awareness of the often desperate conditions in the Caribbean. Last November Weekes was named as a UNICEF Champion for Children to advocate for the rights of children and raise awareness of a wide range of issues such as health, education and equal protection against physical and sexual violence. He also talks regularly in schools.
“I speak about how reggae means more than music, but I speak even more about the concept of love,” he said. “I am my brother’s keeper. It’s my responsibility, everyone’s responsibility, to love others as you love yourself. Sometimes simplicity can be the most complicated way.”
But on stage, music is his message. Weekes sees himself as a singer-songwriter, but knows that his subject matter of love and living in harmony isn’t typical of reggae these days. The conscious lyrics are a reminder of the message reggae used to contain, even if his lush sound is completely Weekes’s own.
“When I started out I just wanted to put a poem over a ‘riddim.’ Now I’ve found my voice. I want to be true to the art form I’ve chosen, whatever comes from it,” he said.