To All My Relations- Interview with Taj Weekes
“You’ve taken on a lie, when falsehood became your alibi. You’ve taken to deceive the very ones you once told to believe. You’ve taken to defend anyone who’ll bring you money in the end. Taken out to war couldn’t get what you were wishing for.” Taj Weekes & Adowa, The Lie
Taj Weekes and Adowa have gifted roots reggae lovers with a new album titled To All My Relations. The album is filled with tracks written during the pivotal protest at Standing Rock and reflective time spent in Cuba right after. The album featuring production by Sidney Mills of Steel Pulse includes songs that were influenced by the current political environment in the United States including The Lie and Son of a Bitch.
Maliika Walker recently got a chance to speak with Taj Weekes about attending the protest at Standing Rock, his observation of Cuba, and challenges in reggae music. Here is their conversation.
Maliika: What was the inspiration around the title To All My Relations?
Taj Weekes: We were on a winter tour, Canada and some parts of America, North Dakota, that time. When we were in North Dakota, somebody noted that they had a friend of Standing Rock. When we were going to Standing Rock, we ended up at a barricade. We passed the sign that said stop and didn’t pay attention, just because it was not in the road. When you got about half a mile up, the police came and asked us if we didn’t see the sign. There were the rolling tanks in the road. The police pulled us over, took us all out to the van.
Maliika: It’s not surprising the police stopped you. They were trying to reduce the number of people going to Standing Rock.
Taj Weekes: The police gave us a ticket for going through the stop sign. The GPS to Standing Rock sent us that way. Anyway, long story short we turn around and got our way to Standing Rock. It was minus 25 degrees there. I had a bottle of water in my hand. It fell on the ground and froze instantly. There were FBI sharpshooters up on the hill pointed down at Standing Rock. It was scary and exciting all at once. We got into Standing Rock. We met some wonderful Native American brothers who welcomed us. We played some music for them. I went into the kitchen, which was the central part of Standing Rock, everybody came into this kitchen. I met some wonderful people. Before we played, they decided to say a prayer, so we formed a circle, and we’re about to say the prayer. The brother said, “This prayer goes out to all my relations.”
Maliika: It’s amazing that you went to Standing Rock.
Taj Weekes: I had another album written and was working on it before going to Standing Rock. We had a wonderful session with the people. We played music for them. We spoke to a lot of people. There were lots of folks just giving thanks. Everybody who was giving thanks said to all my relations. I left Standing Rock changed. I’ve said this before, I thought I knew love until I went to Standing Rock. There were people there in minus 25 degrees standing up for somebody else. Now I’m telling you, I would stand up in minus 25 for my immediate family, but I didn’t think I could’ve done it before I went to Standing Rock. It showed me love beyond my immediate surrounding and family and friends. Standing Rock was tremendous for me. We left Standing Rock, and when I came back home, I went straight to Cuba.
Maliika: What was it like in Cuba? What did you learn about the country?
Taj Weekes: Cuba showed me how powerful propaganda could be. What I was told before I went to Cuba was not anything like what I saw in Cuba. I’ve traveled quite a bit, but Cuba was the safest place I’ve ever felt in my life. I was walking around Cuba 3:00 am with not a worry in all the so-called rough neighborhoods, which I don’t think there are any.
Maliika: It’s amazing what we are told about Cuba in this country.
Taj Weekes: I saw people in Cuba that were proud of what they had done and accomplished against all the odds. Nowadays some of the kids don’t truly understand the power and the beauty of the revolution, but the older folks do understand what it is that was accomplished. I saw culture everywhere. If I stop at a restaurant or a little corner bar to buy something, music was playing. The people were lovely. I really, truly enjoyed Cuba.
All the songs on To All My Relations were written between Standing Rock and Cuba.
Maliika: You worked with Sidney Mills of Steel Pulse on production on this album. What was it like working with him in the studio?
Taj Weekes: A learning experience. It was more learning for me. I think Sidney would say it was learning for him too just hanging out with me and watching me learn from him. He’s such an incredible human being. When you go to the studio with a producer, and I produced basically all the albums by myself with an engineer from whichever studio I was recording … engineers tend to want to impose their way on you. With Sidney it was a different experience. He was imposing his way, but he was incorporating me into it. I was sold completely on what it was that he was selling because he justified it through having done so much work and just being nice about it.
Maliika: How did you meet Sidney Mills?
Taj Weekes: Sidney and I had met each other on the road, and we would always talk. He was always a wonderful person. We started getting closer. I was always saying, “Here, man, we have to do some work together.” He was supposed to do Love Herb and Reggae. We didn’t get the chance. When this came out, I was like, “We have to do this.” When I sat down with him, I said, “I know we have our quintessential sound as Taj Weekes and Adowa, but I want you to take me beyond that. I want you to take me to places where I feel uncomfortable. If I become too uncomfortable, I will tell you, but I’m willing to try.”
Maliika: I love the opening track, “You and I.” The following lyrics just jumped out at me. “You and I have no war, except the one that we’ve been given, and between you and I, animosity is driven.” I think about today’s climate in America with that lyric.
Taj Weekes: I think “You and I” is the song that pulls the entire album together. It’s the first song that I had written. It truly represents the travel between Standing Rock and Cuba. Even though we did some shows after Standing Rock, I left Standing Rock with a different point of view on the entire world. It’s not so much them and us, but it’s you and I. That stripped down to us in our most basic form. We will not see what it is that we’ve been told, but we will see it for what it truly is. I was trying to tell people that it’s the propaganda of what I was told in Cuba, and it’s the hate that they try to push on us, yet we went around it, and we stood up for love at Standing Rock. I was convincing myself and telling everybody else that the world outside our window isn’t fixed. No matter how you break it down, no matter how divisive you become, no matter how wide the chasm grows between the haves and the have-nots, the blacks, and the whites, and Native Americans and the colonizers, we’re still the same people.
We have no war. If we sit and eat together, we will realize that we’re the same. All the divisions that come, it’s not from us. It’s from other people. Even for the people who are dividing us, I wanted them too to know that we all still are there.
If I may say too, the bridge on the song, which I was saying if you are a racist, and if you dislike people just based on the color of their skin or the god they worship, then you are insane. It’s just elemental rage. Your elemental rage and your sordid bitterness is a pathology. It’s not a position.
Maliika: One song that I wanted that really connected with me is Big Pharma, because when you look at health care in capitalist countries, and just the way healthcare is treated.
Taj Weekes: Big Pharma, for me I was thinking about it because I’m getting to the age where I have friends with cancer. It’s not one or two.
Yeah, I remember the days when I didn’t know anybody with cancer. I had a friend of mine who got cancer, and she called me up. She had gone to the doctor, and they said to her, “You have a choice. You can go home and die, or you can go into a hospice.” She asked me what I would do. I said I would change my diet completely, and I would eat plant-based, and I wouldn’t take chemo. I said, “That’s me. I’m still objective because I don’t feel the pain, but that’s the direction I would go in.”
As it would work out, there’s a man; a doctor called Kessler I heard about, who had written countless books on dealing with cancer in an alternative way. I went through the book, and I went online, found the doctor’s name and found the telephone number for him, and I called him in Germany. He answered the phone. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him about this friend of mine. He asked me to have her call him. He told her exactly what I was saying, plant-based and all this. She went that route. She was able to survive a lot longer than they told her they would. She’s alive right now.
Maliika: Thanks for sharing. Let’s talk about 41 Shots. This song struck a chord with me because I reflected on the murder of some people of color at the hands of police.
Taj Weekes: Being the eternal optimist I always think it’s always darkest before the dawn. This too will come to pass. Sometimes I think when these kinds of times come around, it just rallies everybody together to say, “We will not let this happen here.” I think he serves his purpose in that he’s bringing more people together that would not have gotten together had it not been this bad.
The chorus of 41 Shots came out of 45’s son being a hunter, how proud he was of hunting. I was thinking, “When they go out to hunt these animals they are not shooting them 80, 50, 60 times but only two to bring the lion down. They don’t have semi-automatic guns to go shoot these animals. The guys fire two shots, and that’s it. Then you kill a person with 45 shots. That’s what I was thinking, 41 shots to kill Diallo, 50 odd shots took Bell’s tomorrow, it only takes two to bring a lion down. Then you must see us as worse than these lions and hippos that you kill because you shoot us 41 times and 50 times.
While in St. Lucia, I presented 500 bikes to help fight diabetes. Trying to get people to be more active to help fight the disease. While leaving I met this man and I shook his hand. I asked him about his family. He said everybody was fine. I came home and woke up one morning, someone said that his son had been killed. I thought maybe a car accident. Later I found out this kid was shot in his apartment. The kid who was shot Botham John, in his apartment in Dallas.
Maliika: That was such a tragedy.
Taj Weekes: His mother and I grew up on the same street in St. Lucia. In my Vibe Up video where there’s a line that says, “The load is heavy, Jah knows the load is heavy, the rough is rough, but we are ready, we tough, we tough, a trail of tears on our trail of sorrow, but we shall see tomorrow.” I put a tribute to him in that song. I’m saying we had written 41 shots before. I never thought it would come this close, that someone I knew well would have their son shot. I have three sons. I tell them what to do if they get pulled over. Be nice. Put your hands up. I never tell my sons how to act in their apartments. I never tell them how to act in their house. I prepare them for the road and the street, but how do you prepare your child to act in his apartment if somebody knocks on his door?
Maliika: What projects has your charity, The Often Cry Outreach, completed recently in St. Lucia?
Taj Weekes: We delivered 500 bikes and divided equally among the constituencies based on size. If a constituency was a little bigger, they got a little more. We’re trying to start a diabetic riding club because we still have one of the highest rates of diabetes per capita in the world. We delivered over ten thousand pairs of shoes. We are also getting rid of as many stray animals as possible by giving them a home in Canada.
Maliika: Can you talk about marijuana and its relationship with St. Lucia? How do you feel St. Lucia should be moving forward in the marijuana industry?
Taj Weekes: I think everything should be legal, period. With that said, we realize that our economic future is tied up to what the Giants say. Our decisions are not solely ours, even when we want to meet them. Even if we pretend we’re independent, we’re still dependent on other countries. When somebody in the US or Europe has a sniffle, we have a full blown out flu. Whatever affects them affects us. Whatever they do dictates to us that’s what we do.
Maliika: I’ve interviewed musicians from Jamaica and they said the same thing, that we claim to be independent, but we’re dependent on when the bigger powers make their decisions and move forward, and that’s when we move forward.
Taj Weekes: We’re still afraid even though it’s legal in states, and not federally legal. We’re still trembling. What I would love to see if we could be brave enough to stand up for what we believe in, that we will let the Rastas take the lead, from being so marginalized and being treated so unfairly for so long for just believing in a different god, It’s a sad state of affairs. I think we should release all the people in prison for weed.
Taj Weekes: I’m curious about what your point of view of one of the songs from the new album, Insecurities.
Maliika: We all have insecurities, so when I listen I think we can project fake confidence, and I’m evolving to a point where I’m more confident in certain areas. The following lyrics spoke to me, “Insecurities drip from your voice, sounds fake evoking, sounds good for nothing, money maybe for that.” I feel like I do that. Sometimes if you’re thinking you’re feeling positive, and you think you’re going in the right direction, and you hear those yeses, it’s reaffirming your false security. That’s where I went. You’re about to tell me a completely different meaning.
Taj Weekes: I am. I am truly fascinated by where you went.
Maliika: I internalized the song. When I listen to music, I key in on what I can get out of it to help me move forward in life.
Taj Weekes: I wrote a song a long time ago called “Scream Out Mellow” on my album “Hope and Doubt.” I met a man in California who told me his version of what Scream Out Mellow meant, and it was way better than mine. I said to him, “From now on I’m using your version to explain the song.” Insecurities is about reggae music. I sit on the peripheries of reggae because to be quite honest with you; I think there’s so much mediocrity in reggae, in the lyrics, and in that false sense of ownership, of God’s right, because you are from a particular place. What’s sad about it for me is overall, and me looking at the big picture, it just kills the entire moment, because you let mediocre people think they’re great. Then they pay all the playing guys who should still be in the basement practicing.
Maliika: Interesting perspective.
Taj Weekes: A guy gave me a joke where he told me he was teaching a little kid to play bass. The first day he showed the guy the first string. The second time he says, “This is the second string,” and told him what it was, G or E or whatever it is. Then the kid didn’t come to the next practice. He saw him down the street, and he goes, “You didn’t come for your next lesson.” The guy says, “No, I got a gig.” A kid got a gig from only knowing two strings on the bass. I’m saying that’s what’s happening with the music. The people who have only learned two strings on the bass guitar and should be practicing are out gigging, and everybody is making them feel they’re so great when they’re not that great. That, in and of itself, affects all the music that we listen to because you’re making people think they’re way greater than they are. I’m saying, “Insecurities drip from your voice.”
Maliika: I understand what you are saying.
Taj Weekes: Sounds fake evoking because you’re screaming Jah a million times, but that’s not what you’re doing, because you’re in here for girls, or you’re in here for something else. You’re not in here for the art form. “Insecurities drip from your voice, you sound fake evoking, you sound good for nothing, money may be for that,” yeah, you’ll get paid, but it’s hell on the art form that I’m trying to perfect. Had I been born someplace else I would’ve been not where I am, but more known. That’s what I’m saying. “I know you know you’re not that good because the game is not played as it should. You get too many yeses; you need to get boos”, because you’re not that great, because when the art form suffers, which is the reggae art form suffer, we suffer, and all the little sufferers die. It’s disingenuous because now you got a hit, now your nose is up in the sky, and you don’t want to consider the rest of the people who are probably better than you, or just as good as you.
Sometimes when I go out to play, and I’ve spoken to people about songs, while I’m playing I think of them being them, and their interpretation of the song. Then sometimes your performance is different because you projected a different meaning of the song while you were playing it.
Maliika: Yep, because I took your lyrics to Insecurities that way because I see people do it all the time. In some ways, I do it at work too, in my work life. That’s how I took it in because I internalized those four lines. With your stuff, a few lines hit me, and I’m sold on what the song means for me. I gravitate towards my meaning of how I’m interpreting that song. That’s why in some songs it’s what I’m hearing and how I internalized it versus what you meant when you wrote it.
Maliika: You know I have to ask you about the song, “Son of a Bitch.”
Taj Weekes: Son of a Bitch, I try to turn it all around. The language in that is not like my kind of song. I was saying if 45 can use it, I can get in a song. All I did was be him. I was him saying, “You son of a bitch.” If people are saying that I’m explicit, I’m talking as a man calling people names.
The one thing I want to tell you about Son of a Bitch, I don’t know if you realize that I took a part of the national anthem and put it in the song. That’s the reason why we kneel, because the national anthem, which was written by Scott Keyes. He was a slave owner. The bottom of that song when it says, “No refuge can save the hireling or slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” that’s in the Star Spangled Banner. That’s part of the national anthem that no one ever hears. I put it in the song to justify the reason why people kneel, the ones that he is calling son of a bitch. That’s why I included it because everybody was misunderstanding why people knelt. I’m saying, “If your anthem says this can you not understand why they’re doing what they’re doing? Why we are doing what we’re doing?”
Maliika: I also love the song, “What Do You Believe In.”
Taj Weekes: What Do You Believe In, there’s a story behind this track. My newest guitar player, he’s been here for three years, Jafe Paulino, who is an incredible artist in his own right, who’s going to be big one day in life. At soundcheck he’d always sing, “Tell me, tell me, what do you believe in.” I was like, “Wow, this is a nice melody, man. We should write something around that.” He always said, “Yes, yes, yes.” One day I said, “Send me the melody, and whatever words you have.” He sent me What Do You Believe In. If shadows made for lurking, hearts are made for hurting, war invades the peaceful, and some other lyrics. I said, “I’ll take it all and write the rest.” I wrote the rest, and wrote the bridge, “What do you believe in? Is it greed, love, sloth.” Some people believe in money. It’s rooted in as the bridge. We did it together. It’s a funky kind of reggae song. It has a wonderful groove to it.
Maliika: I didn’t want to end without discussing the song, “The Lie”
Taj Weekes: The Lie is about Donald Trump, period. The first time the man got in power he couldn’t remember what his eyes were telling him and showing him. You’re taking on a lie when falsehood becomes your alibi. If your alibi is a lie, we know it’s a lie, then how can we believe you? You deceive the very ones you asked to believe you. You’re going to drain the swamp, but you made more of a swamp. One of the presidents said it before me, President Roosevelt, but he was referring to another opponent as a liar, and his lies were fathomless mendacity. I took it from one president, and I said it about another president.
To All My Relations available on all streaming platforms at https://VPAL.lnk.to/
Taj Weekes Website: www.tajweekes.com