Interview by: Monica Caldari
Summer usually brings out the best in us (at least it does in me!). We lounge in the sun, frolic in the fields, hike and bike through the wilderness, and listen to reggae music outdoors. This last activity brings to mind the social consciousness and idyllic awareness of the “island vibe.” While at Commons Beach recently, I was lucky to be present at the performance of roots reggae artist Taj Weekes and his talented band who have been an integral part in the revival of roots reggae (his latest album Deidem was recently noted on Billboard for being a part of the new resurgence of this musical genre). Due in part to his approachable nature and thanks to his manager Shirley Menard, I sat with him the following day and got to know a little bit more about the man behind the music. What I discovered immediately was that the inescapable beauty and essence of Taj Weekes is found in his humanitarian values. Much of his music delves into life’s overlooked human experiences: oppression, loss, greed, fear, inequality and injustice.
Native of the Caribbean island known as Saint Lucia, he knows what it means to fight for independence… his island was fought over many times by Europeans and finally became independent in 1976. Meanwhile a young Taj was learning about family, survival, and music. Taj recalls growing up and listening to the Roots Reggae played by his older brothers (he is the youngest of 10 siblings). Early reggae musicians were considered the “town criers” delivering the news of the world set to rhythm and rhyme. With the popularization and computerization of the “Reggae beat,” he noted a change from a listening music to a dancing music– not so terrible except that oftentimes the message was lost to the pop culture and money-hungry imitators. Thus, in his opinion, occurred a loss in the consciousness building power of the music.
Taj is driven by the purpose of getting the message heard. I was instantly entranced by his gentle manner and fragile voice; moved by the words he spoke with thoughtful demeanor and careful measure. We discussed every topic from camping in the wild, the socio-political plight of humanity, Hurricane Katrina, Darfur, and Biblical prophecies. A committed believer in Rastafari, Taj may invoke the stereotypical image of the herb-worshipping Rasta, but he is profoundly so much more. He ponders on and delivers the state of humanity and our impact on Mother Earth through his music. His meditations and visions give rise to lyrics, which he is compelled to share with those who care to listen. While he smiles gently and speaks softly, this approachable and extremely likeable man holds a sadness deep within clearly evidenced by the lyrics found in his music.
During his cross-country travels in the U.S., he encountered a number of wandering souls and learned the history of the Native Americans; their plight and loss of land, power, and might. In homage to their struggles he wrote a song which will be found on his next album (he currently has enough material to put together eight more albums!).
During our candid discussion, I sensed the feelings of guilt he harbors for living a life filled with simple pleasures while somewhere else on the planet war is devastating the lives of many, children are dying, starving, losing their parents, struggling to survive. For this reason, the man who sings about the troubles of others does more than just raise awareness with his music. He repeatedly spoke of the “collective power of people” to right the wrongs of society and heal each other. For his part, he created They Often Cry Outreach, a charity dedicated to raising funds and educating children in poor and underprivileged societies. Undoubtedly this program is why the International Consortium of Caribbean Professionals has named him a Goodwill Ambassador.
Taj Weekes is much more than a performer. Just as the ‘70s and ‘80s gave us the thought provoking music of Bob Marley, we are today in the midst of another mystic who finds music and poetry at the heart of all of life’s experiences. The Park City Record in Utah describes him as “Bono Meets Bob Marley.” In being a writer and performer of roots reggae music, Taj Weekes provides us with the fodder needed for social consciousness and intellectual dialogue, and ultimately social change.
For information on They Often Cry Outreach and to donate to this virtuous cause visit theyoftencryoutreach.org.