The Houston Chronicle has just published a profile/interview of St Lucian reggae artist Taj Weekes as he releases his new cd, Deidem. Here are some excerpts, with a link to the full text below.
When Sunday morning comes down in St. Lucia, one might hear Johnny Cash on the radio, according to Taj Weekes, a reggae superstar from the Caribbean island.
Weekes said a typical morning might include songs by Jim Reeves, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. The radio isn’t formatted, so there’s also calypso, some classical pieces and maybe some Elton John. “I think it’s healthier for us, rather than having one genre on a station every day of the year,” he says. “It leaves you feeling refreshed, and you get this rich musical education.”
Such a varied education is at least partially responsible for Weekes’ status as the most interesting roots reggae singer to come along in a generation. There are no gimmicks in Weekes’ music: no hip-hop, no party anthems, no visual shtick, crutches that have made dancehall a profitable, if shallow, permutation of reggae’s history. Weekes sings in a high, brittle and otherworldly voice. But he’s a songwriter first. His songs play out vibrantly with a band, but strip them down to just voice and guitar and they remain smart and melodic.
Weekes bristles at the notion that reggae must come from Jamaica. Though he heard a lot of calypso growing up, reggae is what carried his attention. “But they’re similar,” he says, “both followed the same tradition of telling stories. That’s where dancehall has let us down; it’s like they’ve forgotten about the message and the music. It’s about affluence and things that don’t matter. It moved away from telling a story into being about material things along the way.”
Weekes is less interested in the acquired things that make us different, which is why he titled his new album Deidem, which translates “all of us.” “I think we’re more alike than we are different,” he says. “We really need to pay attention to this, only way to truly understand each other is to sit and talk. We’re too caught up in preconceived ideas about who people are and what they are. At the end of the day, I’ve never seen anybody with three feet and four eyes.”
For all of Weekes’ one-world talk, Deidem actually started with a period of self-involved contemplation. Both of his parents had recently died and Weekes wrote seven songs “about my sorrowful state of mind.” His mood shifted while watching Hotel Rwanda. “It got me thinking that my parents had lived to a good old age,” he says. “My dad died at 80, meanwhile there were children dying and being killed through no fault of their own.”
Weekes looked outward and came up with Orphans Cry, the first song that he’d include on Deidem. He scrapped the seven he’d already written and began work on songs like Angry Language, Propaganda War and Dark Clouds, which fit with reggae’s storied tradition of documenting dark times and demanding change. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina inspired Louisiana, a stripped down and ghostly lament.
Weekes’ previous album was titled Hope and Doubt, which says much about his world view. He says he’s always heartened by immediate outreach after disasters, but then is outraged by the “deadly silence” that ensues weeks later. “I can’t build infrastructure in Haiti,” he says, “but I am going down there with 5,000 pairs of shoes.” He’s been collecting them while on tour.
Weekes plays the Houston International Festival on Saturday, where he’ll sing about hope and doubt in a reggae style that relies more on the varied roots music he grew up with than modern vogue fusions.
“The good thing about hope and doubt is that they complement each other,” he says. “That’s the beautiful thing, we should most of the time be doing some sort of balancing act between them.”
For more go to http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/6968658.html