Taj, you're from a small island in the Caribbean called St. Lucia. Just start by telling us a bit more about that dot in the ocean.
Taj Weekes: "St. Lucia is your typical Caribbean island, but what's interesting about it is that it is the Helen of the West-Indies (a reference to Helen of Troy, the daughter of Zeus and considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Her abduction by Paris brought about the Trojan War, red.); the island was fought over no less than fourteen times by the French and the British."

Musically speaking Jamaica is dominated by reggae and dancehall, Trinidad & Tobago by soca and calypso, what's the dominant music in St. Lucia?
Taj Weekes: "There are influences from both these places you just mentioned, but you also have authentic St. Lucian music called kwadril (kwadril or quadrille is a Lucian Creole folk dance derived from the European quadrille. It is performed primarily at private parties which are organized by a host in a private home or rented hall with musicians paid by the host. The modern kwadril has declined in popularity; it had come to be seen as a symbol of colonialism around the time of independence, and was shunned as old-fashioned and out-of-date. More recently, some aspects of Lucian society have come to promote the quadrille as a symbol of Lucian culture. Kwadril music is provided by an ensemble consisting of a four-stringed instrument, the cuatro, a rattle, the chakchak, bones called zo, a violin, banjo, also called skroud or bwa pòyé, mandolin and guitar, red.) played at the La Rose and La Margeritte festivals (La Rose and La Marguerite are rival societies that commemorate the Anglo-French heritage of the island; the factions represent the warring colonial powers, between whose hands Saint Lucia changed fourteen times. La Rose is held on August 30th while La Margurite is held on October 17th. The societies date back to the early 19th century, when each village was home to competing organizations of the Roman Catholic Church. At these meetings, which are on Saturday for La Rose and Sunday for La Marguerite, members sing or play instruments and dance. La Marguerite meetings feature the membership in a seat chorus with a leader, the chantwèl, standing, while La Rose meetings include instruments like the tanbouwen or tambourine, baha or wooden trumpet, chakchak or rattles, guitar and gwaj or scraper. The celebrations of both groups differ in that La Rose, the "English" faction, is characterized by noisiness, movement, participation, rhythm and exuberance, while La Marguerite, the "French" faction, is characterized by melody, discipline and restraint, red.). Sesenne (Dame Marie Selipha Descartes DBE, BEM, 28 March 1914 - 11 August 2010, was a Saint Lucian singer and cultural icon. As a young artiste, she was hired by Grace Augustin, entrepreneur of a guest house called The Hotel, and Sesenne became the lead singer of a traditional band which entertained guests with the use of such traditional instruments as the chak-chak, mandolin, quatro, banjo, violin and guitar. Not many people know that Sesenne sang for both La Rose and La Marguerite groups. This may explain one of her most profound lines in one of her well-known songs: "My mother was a rose; my father was a marguerite, I myself, I am the roots of flowers.", red.) was the most famous singer or "chantwèl", but even she never really made it on the international scene."

How did you end up playing reggae?
Taj Weekes: "The radio stations in St. Lucia aren't formatted, so they play a bit of everything, from Jimi Hendrix over Van Morrison to Bob Marley. At the end of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties, the reggae scene coming out of Jamaica was so dynamic, that you were either with it or against it. It was the only music that really spoke to me. Two of my brothers were Rastafarians and I kind of followed them in that path."

Was the draw of that music strong enough to make you want to visit Jamaica?
Taj Weekes: "Well, I've visited Jamaica over twenty five times now, but I still love St. Lucia more. The great thing when you're a reggae musician that's not from Jamaica is that you can add your own twist to the original. The band I play with, Adowa, is an excellent example of the variety you can find in reggae music: Adoni (Xavier, guitar, red.) is from Trinidad, Radss (Burt Desiree, bass, red.) is from Dominica, Cornel Marshall (drums, red.) is Jamaican and John Hewitt (keyboards, red.) is from Barbados. They all bring their own vibration to the music."

Why exactly did you opt to name your band after the place in Ethiopia were this famous battle against the Italian forces took place?
Taj Weekes: "That has to do with the title of our first album which was called 'Hope & Doubt' "Hope" represented our hope as a band to make it and "Doubt" the people who didn't believe in us. The battle of Adowa was a hopeful battle, because if you would have looked at it on paper, there was no hope on earth the Ethiopians would come out of it victorious. It was also kind of a tribute to my grandfather who's Ethiopian."

Your biography states you grew up in a musical family and that your father was a great singer with a fantastic voice. Did he ever take it to a professional level like you did?
Taj Weekes: "No, he just sang at home and in church. Every night we would line up in the living room to sing to our parents and at the end of the night my father would get up and sing to us. In retrospect I realize that by singing to us he showed me a lot of great breathing techniques. I remember being nervous to go on stage when I was just starting out and my father coming up to me asking me what was up. I told him I was nervous and he asked me if I'd also be afraid to talk to the people present individually. When I replied: "No, of course not!", he said: "Well, go out and talk to them then!". It was really a boost that he supported me in what I was doing. Had he had the opportunities I truly believe he would have become a great artist in his own right."

Apart from your father showing you these techniques, did you ever follow any formal musical training of any form?
Taj Weekes: "Not really, no. I once borrowed a book on singing at the local library, but apart from that I'm completely self-taught. I actually prefer to say it was self-realization rather than self-teaching, as I feel I was already inclined to follow a musical path; it was already in me."

You also founded your own charity T.O.C.O. (They often Cry Outreach, red.) at one point. Why did you feel the need to go that extra mile?
Taj Weekes: "I think we live in a world where a lot of people are convinced they need a lot of stuff to be able to function as individuals. At the end of the day being a musician is not the hardest job in the world; in the grand scheme of things I might even call it an easy job! The Bible even mentions the singers and players of instruments (Psalm 87 verse 7, As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there: all my springs are in thee, red.), so being a member of that group is like a blessing. As Rastafarians we should see ourselves as of this world but not in this world, meaning we shouldn't be too involved in all the consumerism that is going on. There's only so much a human being really needs and the majority of the people in the world are suffering! As roots reggae musicians we sing about that every day, so in my opinion it's a question of talking the talk and walking the walk. As an artist you have the opportunity to rally people for certain causes and personally I felt the need to start T.O.C.O. because I was always taught to give by my mother. I'm the youngest of a family of ten and even though we were quite a large family I remember my mother always having a pot of food ready to give out to whoever would still pass by. I already learned growing up that no matter how little you had, there was always someone who had less than you. T.O.C.O. came into being after someone at the United Nations had heard my song ‘The Orphan's Cry' and asked me if I'd be interested in becoming a Goodwill Ambassador to the Caribbean. I wanted to show the world that the islands in the Caribbean were more than holiday islands; that there was also actual suffering going on. To give you an example, St. Lucia has one of the highest counts of diabetes per capita in the world, so one of the first things we did was hand out 3500 diabetes test kits. I've also shot a documentary on diabetes, which should be released in November to coincide with diabetes month."  

Your most recent studio album to date was called ‘A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen', a title inspired by the disaster caused by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (2005, red.).
Taj Weekes: "Well, even though the direct inspiration for that album title came from the disaster that happened in New Orleans, on a wider level 'A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen' is also a description of the state of the entire planet. This planet is all we have and if we don't take care of it we'll be doomed to go down with it."

Apart from a musician you're also a poet. Have any of your poems been published already?
Taj Weekes: "Now you mention it, a first collection of my poems, called 'Brown Lawns', will be published later this year if everything goes to plan. The title refers to the financial crisis the western world finds itself in at the moment; where banks foreclose on people's homes and the lawns (the grass) are left untended, so they turn brown."

Is there a difference for in writing the lyrics for a song and writing a poem?
Taj Weekes: "Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot more freedom in writing poems; they don't necessarily need to rhyme if you know what I mean, it's just not as strict as writing the lyrics for a song. With song lyrics you have to try and find something catchy people can hook on to, take into account the chorus and things like that."

One of your great inspirations in poetry is Derek Walcott. That name might not ring a bell with all people; tell us a bit more about him.
Taj Weekes: "To me Derek Walcott is the greatest poet alive. He's a Saint-Lucian like me and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992. Sadly Saint Lucians have never quite recognized him as they should have; I wasn't taught about his work at school for example, which means today I probably still know more about Dylan Thomas than I do about Derek Walcott! After he won the Nobel Prize, St. Lucia wanted to catch up and started naming all sorts of thing after him, which to me all felt a bit makeshift. There's an old saying stating: "A good man is never wanted in his own country!" and that's certainly true for Derek Walcott."

Coming from St. Lucia rather than Jamaica, what does Rastafari represent to you?
Taj Weekes: "Rastafari is an I&I philosophy: it's the coming together of the physical and the spiritual or the soul. Rastafari is seeing Christ in every person regardless of the geographical location they are from. A Rastafarian should walk the walk and talk the talk of a spiritual man in a physical world. His Imperial Majesty is the catalyst and as Rastafarians we function along his guidelines. It's certainly not about considering yourself to be greater or better than anyone else. There's an old saying the people are the same wherever you go and in my travels I've learned that that is absolutely true! We're often a lot more similar then we are different."

Do you feel you're given a harder time being a non-Jamaican reggae artist?
Taj Weekes: "Because Jamaica was were the root of the music was, a lot of people believe it to be the only true source. I think that concept is flawed, because music cannot be limited to one country. If you plant a tree, its branches will keep growing causing the fruit to drop in different yards. You can't confine music. If it would have been solely to the Jamaicans to keep reggae music alive, I think the genre would have died a long time ago!"