If someone says ‘reggae’ you may respond with ‘Jamaica’, ‘Gyptian’ or you might get up and show off the latest dance craze from a Busy Signal tune. Such is the popularity of reggae music the world over that many have embraced it, adapted it and some may argue, exploited it by watering down its true essence. But there’s still part of this much loved genre that takes us beyond the depths of a heavy bassline and infectious riddims. Chanel Williams caught up with Taj Weekes, the man acclaimed to be reviving old skool roots reggae with his band, Adowa.
As I wait to be connected to Taj Weekes I’m serenaded by one of the tunes from his new album. Within a few seconds I’m interrupted by a softly spoken man with a subtle yet sweet Caribbean accent. You can immediately feel the calm energy of his laid back island vibe and with civility out of the way we get to the important stuff.
Hailing from the beautiful island of St Lucia, Weekes grew up the youngest of ten children in a family where music was ever present. At the age of five, his relationship with music began when he started singing in church and had his own radio show aged eleven. In pursuing his musical career, Weekes moved to the States in his late teens where he met a group of Caribbean musicians who later collectively formed Taj Weekes & Adowa. From the name alone it’s easy to see why some may make comparisons to Bob Marley and the Wailers, but Weekes’ humbly acknowledges they have a long way to go, ‘How can they say that when we’ve only done two albums compared with the many [Marley] has done and the influence of his music till now.’ Another obvious difference is that he is not from Jamaica, the home of reggae music, but this doesn’t make his any less authentic, ‘I write from the heart’ Weekes explains, ‘music is like a tree: its roots are in Jamaica, but its branches have outgrown the yard and the fruit has landed in other territories.’
Weekes’ immersion of the Rastafi faith (not Rastafarian, as commonly referred to by many) means his music is synonymous with greater depth and relative meaning. His band, Adowa, (pronounced “Ah-Doh-Wah”) is named in honour of the victorious Ethiopian battle and is also a tribute to his Ethiopian grandfather. Following their critically acclaimed debut album Hope & Doubt, Taj and Adowa are set to gain an even larger fan base with their sophomore release, Diedem (All of Us). The conscious artist is impressed by my pronunciation of a name many have struggled with, ‘I’ve heard plenty people call it [a]whole heap of names’ he says, ‘everything in Rastafi relates to ‘I’’ (hence, ‘dee-I-dem’). With tracks exploring issues of suffering around the world including Louisiana – a song written about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – Diedem depicts subjects many people can relate to. Through his simple yet powerful lyrics, Weekes captures a sense of pain, and with his dusky unique voice he is able to evoke emotions you wouldn’t usually expect to feel on a first helping of a tune. Since Cain, in its biblical reference, echoes the current climate of violence we read about in newspapers far too often: Is there anyone with sense to put an end to this violence/I kill you, you kill me…and so the cycle goes around…
Weekes’ genuine interest in world issues as referred to in Orphan’s Cr’ is backed by his non-profit organisation, They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO) which works to improve the lives of disadvantaged children, through various programmes including football – ‘when I was growing up we played a lot of football…I figured if we could give the children balls maybe it would take their mind off things for a little while.’ Weekes certainly practices what he preaches and as the Goodwill Ambassador for the Caribbean he is in a position to do so. He may not be the first reggae artist to sing about deep topics, but with strong spiritual grounding and a fresh approach to delivering inspiring messages, Weekes proves that Taj Weekes and Adowa are paving the way as leaders of classical roots reggae.
Words by Chanel Williams
Diedem is out now on Jatta Records