Taj Weekes & Adowa – The Best Thing in Roots Reggae Right Now
[republished from New York Music Daily’s older sister blog Lucid Culture]
Taj Weekes is just about the best thing happening in roots reggae right now. The world is full of acts who claim to be inspired by Bob Marley, but the St. Lucia-born bandleader is really on to what Marley meant to reggae. On his new album Waterlogged Soul Kitchen with his band Adowa (named after the famous 19th century battle where the Ethiopians crushed an incursion by Italian imperialists), what Weekes takes from Jah Bob is a tunefulness that goes beyond the usual two-chord vamps, and the kind of arrangements that made the golden age of reggae in the late 70s so unforgettable and fun: layers of sparse, thoughtful Chinna Smith-style lead guitar, melodic bass, the occasional spice of horns and the slinky one-drop from the drums. While Weekes has a similarly high, penetrating voice, his style is hardly a ripoff – it’s a lot closer to the dreamy warmth of Dennis Brown in his more contemplative moments. Weekes’ lyrics range from gently optimistic to scathingly aware: while he resists the categorization of “socially conscious artist,” his insights are all over the place. Weekes has his eyes open, and he doesn’t shy away from trouble.
The album opens with Just a Dream, a defining moment: “Fear, fear, go away, you will come another day,” Weekes sings, not unsarcastically. Likewise, the song’s intro echoes a spaghetti westernit’s an upbeat song, an anthem to hold on for better days ahead. The second track, Janjaweed has a catchy rocksteady hook but a chilling lyric about the “malignant seed” that’s terrorized Darfur for what seems like decades now.
B4 the War is a sad, evocative look back “before I was a puppet, before I killed for profit,” lowlit by Chris Laybourne’s vivid flute and a sarcastic bit of a march to end it. Weekes follows with Rain Rain, a pretty, Marleyesque lament, and the requisite ganja tune, Two Joints, an indomitable road trip tale.
You Ain’t Ready for the Heavy has a fat, catchy groove that underplays the defiant challenge of the lyrics and a biting guitar solo that’s like Al Anderson gone to the Middle East. With its simple, swaying mento-flavored acoustic guitar and organ, Anthems of Hope is sort of Weekes’ Redemption Song, a reason to carry on in spite of war on all fronts, the catastrophic effects of global warming and “color coded fear.” Weekes ends up the album with two more evocative antiwar numbers, one with a Jammin-style organ melody and another with the feel of a vintage Toots & the Maytals tune – except that this one’s told from the point of view of a child born of rape in a war somewhere in the third world. The album ends up on a powerful note with Drill, which broodingly and sarcastically riffs on John McCain’s “drill baby drill” mantra. If roots reggae is your thing and you don’t know this guy, you’re missing out. Weekes plays frequent NYC shows, and they are always excellent: watch this space for upcoming dates