(Hint: Rasta Love is Not About Homophobia and Herb is Not About Smoking Marijuana)
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. He and his band Adowa will bring their inviting, open sound to the rock paper scissors showcase at SXSW on March 15 at Russian House, 307 E, 5th (21+ only).
Weekes will be performing music from his last four albums, but it’s much more than music that he will bring to Austin in March. “At SXSW two years ago a journalist refused to interview me because she said I was ‘a homophobic rasta,’” recalls Taj Weekes, a musician from St. Lucia in the Caribbean. “She made an assumption and I realized other people make that assumption about all reggae musicians. She did not find out that I do not care who people sleep with. She did not find out that 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,” says Weekes. “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 ‘70s 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.”
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.”
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 10 years a new breed of reggae has come along that’s moved away from the idea of non-judgmental love. 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 insists. “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.”
Love, Herb and Reggae. It’s a good way to live. But the message needs to be passed on, and that’s what Weekes does. His children’s charity, They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO), a US-based not-for--profit organization is dedicated to improving the lives of Caribbean children through sports, health and enrichment programs 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, 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. 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 – the gospel 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.”
And there might be a least one surprise during Weekes’s SXSW showcase. He’s considering playing an acoustic version of a song he’s composed for his upcoming album. But whatever happens, it will be an event, because, to him, ‘reggae’ is a verb.
“It’s a doing word. A love word. A helping word. A standing up for your rights word. That’s how I understand reggae and Rastafari. It’s uplifting people so they see things in a different way.”