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Deidem by Taj Weekes and Adowa

Deidem by Taj Weekes and Adowa

Deidem by Taj Weekes and Adowa

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A new roots release straight from St Lucia with Deidem, second album from soulful singer Taj Weekes and his band Adowa.

Sampler

Taj Weekes - DeidemThe picture postcard view of reggae from the mainstream is of a sunny, relentlessly upbeat genre, full of promises that everything will be “irie”. And like most clichés it contains more than an element of truth. But you’ll get no such assurance from the second full-length set by St Lucian singer Taj Weekes and his group Adowa, who clearly inhabit a very different world.

There aren’t any laid-back island vibes to be found on Deidem, for it is no party album. From opener ‘Angry Language’ (a chillingly honest account of the descent from high minded principle into rage) to ‘Hurricane Katrina’ inspired piano ballad Louisiana, this is melancholy soul-searching music, but the eerie detachment of Weeke’s voice averts wounded sentimentality or depressing dirge. He has an ageless, genderless falsetto that could give depth to even the most trite lyrics, yet this is matched by an originality and a poetic simplicity with words, an avoidance of stock terms and phrases and a tendency to deal in opposites, exemplified by his warning of impending apocalypse during ‘For Today’, where he tells us that, “The latter days have come, The ending has begun, Beginning’s on the way, Hold on for today”. Weekes is also a guitarist, and both clean melodic lead and percussive Tosh-style wah wah rhythm work (shared between him, Sheldon Garner and Adoni Xavier) are at the forefront of many of the tracks, although never to the point of ill judged “rock reggae” fusion. Using his own band for the arrangements really pays off - yielding a unity that only the elite session players can attain.

Such is the sense of foreboding across most of this record - even the one lively ska type rhythm bears the chorus “since Cain slew Abel, misery and pain” - that the two major key compositions offer welcome relief. With its descending melody, clavinet and sweet vocal, first single ‘Hollow Display’ sounds uncannily like The Royals’ ‘My Sweat Turns To Blood’, but Weekes’ stoical poignant description of relationship breakup deems it a worthy successor rather than a pale imitation, while ‘Dark Clouds’ uses the changing seasons to give a critique of environmental destruction made palatable by its subtlety and artful turn of phrase.

In the interests of balance it is worth mentioning that Deidem’s bleak mood and the primacy of the guitars in the mix may be too much for some people’s tastes. But, as a reggae artist, Taj Weekes has the full package – a strange haunting voice, deep and interesting lyrics, the ability to write songs (not just sing over rhythms) and an uncompromising view of what the music should entail. If you like old school roots the way it used to be but don’t like it to sound self consciously “retro”– this is your man. One of 2008’s best releases from outside Jamaica so far.

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