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Herb, Love & Reggae
Taj Weekes is… the dreadlocked Rastafarian musician, bred in the Caribbean but shaped by intercontinental life experience; he is the creative, poetic singer-songwriter who fronts a dynamic reggae band named Adowa. Taj is also the unwavering, energetic humanitarian whose dedication extends beyond his song lyrics into his social activism, an activism that has culminated in his official role with the United Nations as ‘UNICEF Champion for Children’ and his children’s charity, They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO).
Aside from brains, a heart, and a great smile, he has four acclaimed albums of musically adventurous reggae. His fifth album, ‘Love Herb and Reggae,’ arrives on February 12, 2016, and will be supported by a year-long tour. Taj is remarkable too in that, although a formidable idealist, he nonetheless maintains an unblinking and sophisticated view of the world. This balance between seeing what is and seeking what should be clearly powers his social activism. It also imbues his songs with a pragmatic, non-judgmental optimism that is not merely unusual in reggae, but almost unique.
So what makes Taj Weekes special can be summarized in three words: Musician. Poet. Humanitarian. What makes him astonishing is the easy and unforced harmony among all these facets of his existence.
Irie Magazine is proud to kick off Reggae History month and Black History month with an exclusive interview with Taj Weekes, the Musician, Poet and Humanitarian who truly believes that Love, Herb & Reggae is the way.
IRIE. You were born the youngest of 10 children in St. Lucia. What was life like growing up in St. Lucia? I hear that your family was kind of like a Caribbean version of the Von Trapp family.
Taj Weekes: Growing up in the Caribbean for me was in ‘83 and in a sunshine life. It was warm. We got up in the morning and had breakfast when there was no school. I went on the soccer field and played soccer and cricket. Came home had lunch and went back out again and did the same thing until it was time to come home. During school days, I would get up in the morning and go to school, do my school work and then played ball and go to the beach. That was life. It was a carefree life. I didn’t have to worry about anything.
My family was a singing family. What we did for entertainment at night, we would line up in the living room and sing for my parents. My dad would get up at the end of the night and sing to us. In all our carefree time running around during the day, we would try to prepare a song that we would sing that night. We also sang at school and church. My brothers and I, the last four brothers including myself had a band together and we sang around the island.
IRIE. What inspired you as a child to begin composing music?
Taj Weekes: The music that I sang with my family as a child inspired me. My job was to write down the lyrics to the song. That’s how I got into writing lyrics. When I was thirteen years old, I had my own radio program on the national radio station in St. Lucia called Radio St. Lucia. The first song I wrote was a Calypso song however it was reggae music that drew me in.
IRIE. Can you share with us your special relationship with your brother Desmond?
Taj Weekes: Desmond was the oldest of my four youngest brothers. His nickname was MPLA. He taught me how to play the guitar. He was the first Rasta in the family. When I use to listen to him speak, I realized that I believe in that concept of life. He taught me that the temple was in.
IRIE. On February 12, 2016, you will release your fifth album, Love, Herb & Reggae. There is one track that really stands out that I would like to talk about. Can you tell us what ‘Here I Stand’ is about?
Taj Weekes: A couple of years ago I did SXSW. There were journalist lined up to interview the artists and we were the only reggae act on the bill that year. A journalist refused to interview me because she said I was homophobic. She hadn’t even spoken to me because she was under the perception that all reggae musicians were homophobic. So I walked away. On the flight back home, it bothered me that people were making these kinds of generalizations. But then at the same time I realized that what was being put out in the media from the people that sang about that kind of love was all negative. I then understood the generalizations. I am not the kind of person that generalizes about anything. I was hoping that other people were like that. But then it wasn’t that way.
So I got home and I said to my son, Jonah, who was ten at the time, “Some woman didn’t interview me because she said I was homophobic.” We went through the whole explanation of homophobic. And one of the questions he asked for the phobia part of the word was, “What are they afraid of?”
He then said to me, “Dad, what are you going to do about it?” I said, I’m going to write a song about it.” And that’s how I started to write ‘Here I Stand’. I basically said, Here I stand. I’m a man and I love a woman. But if a woman loves another woman, that is her business. And if a man loves a man, that is his business. It is not my position to judge.
There is a line in the song that says, ‘And what really is the problem we’ve been talking much of love. But is it wrong to love another because it’s not your kind of love.” Now I know that we in the reggae community see babylon as being outside of us. That we are not Babylon. I want us to realize that if we become the repressive one, then we now become Babylon.
When I understood, Love, especially, One Love, it meant One Love for everyone. Just come as you are. Not a judgmental love; a pointing a finger and saying well, you cannot love this person. How can you tell someone who they can love? They are not hating a person, they are loving them. So that’s basically what ‘Here I Stand’ is about.
IRIE. Music back in the days use to bridge cultural gaps and excite political fervor. Peter Tosh said it best, referring to politics as politricks. Does today’s political climate help or hurt the average man?
Taj Weekes: What’s sad for me is that America has been around for so many years and since the beginning, the public has not become aware enough to realize that it’s all a game. They are both the same thing. Whether its a Republican or Democrat. How much does the average man life change? It doesn’t really change. I would wish and hope that the people truly recognize their power. Politics is a divisive thing. It’s basically present to throw people off from what the real issue is. Just some people making some money while the rest of us starve.
What kills me is when people describe themselves by the party for which they vote. I’m a Republican. I’m a Democrat. No, you’re just a person. And I know these people. They become so divisive that they cannot see any other point of view but the point of view of the party they want to follow.
The public has to realize that politics is all but a game. At the end of the day, these brothers hang out with each other. So after so many years of elections, I would hope that the people would wise up and realized that this is actually a game and that not of these brothers really truly care about you. When they get elected, they are going to do the same thing. Life does not change.
We have to take some responsibility too. We cannot blame everything on politicians. It is a game and they have been playing us for forever. And we need to wise up and realize what is happening.
IRIE. How do you feel about the current state of reggae music? The music industry?
Taj Weekes: There’s a level of mediocrity across the board in the music period. Even so in reggae music. If you want something to grow, and you are only showing one flavor of it, people are going to get tired of that flavor and move away from it. We need to show people variety. What’s terrible for me is when people define reggae by Bob Marley. Bob Marley is not reggae. Bob Marley is an artist in reggae. Granted, he did wonderful work for reggae but what happen to Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Gregory Isaacs, Kiddus I, Culture, Third World, Steel Pulse? All these people are reggae.
When people talk about Rock and Roll, they don’t say the Beatles. The Beatles are not Rock and Roll. There’s the Stones, The Doors and the Kinks… there’s a shitload of People. So we have to give Reggae the same respect as a music as we give any other music and we don’t do that.
If we are pushing reggae to the world and every time it comes up for nominations, the same 5 people get nominated, the masses of the people don’t go looking for music… they only hear these 5 albums. And sometimes these five albums are very mediocre. When they hear that all the time, this is the measuring stick for this music. If you are giving them mediocre subpar music over and over, that what will be the measuring stick for this music.
Why was the music so great during Bob Marley, Peter Tosh in those times? Because they set the bar so high that everybody tried to get to that bar. And when they left and it was watered down, watered down became the standard so people are following watered down.
IRIE. What is your stance on legalization of Marijuana and Hemp? Any concerns?
Taj Weekes: People are aware of what hemp is and what hemp does. The same way they are aware of what marijuana is and what marijuana does. There’s a profit margin involved. When weed was made illegal, it was the first time ever that a weed was made illegal. The law had to be change to make a weed illegal just because it had to compete with other forms of intoxication. And they knew then what they know now that it was always safe. I still preach moderation in everything that you do, period.
At the bottom of all of this is the almighty dollar. If weed was so bad, why is it good now. It’s good now only because there’s a profit margin attached to it.
And if you are going to legalize marijuana, then are you going to let everyone in prison who’s been put in for a joint out or are you going to keep them in there? And are you going to give everybody else the right to grow it? And if you are going to legalize marijuana, the little guy who is doing the hustle, who’s making his economics and taking care of his family, you have to let him be. Are you going to make it legal and prevent him from doing what he is doing, growing his own weed? So the little herb man who’s hustling can no longer hustle.
It’s a delicate thing. You have to watch. It’s a wonderful idea that right now you don’t have to hide in the corner to smoke a joint but at the same time, the economics are not going to benefit the poor. It’s only going to benefit the rich… again. That’s my whole concern about the legalizing of Marijuana.
IRIE. If you could give one message to wake up the people of the world, what would that message be.
Taj Weekes: The message is very simple but sometimes simplicity is the most complicated thing. We have to remember to love our neighbor as ourselves… period. We have to become our brother’s keeper and we have to stand up for each other.
IRIE. Give thanks, Taj Weekes!
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