Music has always been used to advocate, educate and enlighten audiences through powerful lyrics and soulful rhythms. Benefit concerts and star studded musical collaborations have all produced historic songs and global fundraising efforts to draw huge crowds and profits to help those in need. Some artists use “musical philanthropy” as a business model for advancing their career or pushing their own agenda. Adding a song to an album to draw attention to a cause is one thing, but there are few artists that actually “talk the talk and walk the walk”. For St. Lucian musician, singer/songwriter and reggae artist Taj Weekes, music has always been a merging of entertainment and humanity. In describing his role as an artist, Weekes states, “As artists, our sole job is to bring to light things that people may not think about too much whether it’s what happened in New Orleans or the earthquakes in Haiti or in Japan. Commercial radio and corporate media tells us about everything that doesn’t concern us. So my responsibility is to let people know what is happening, like a town crier, and maybe we can respond accordingly.”

Toco logoIn the last 8 years, Weekes and his band, Adowa, have released four critically acclaimed albums independently on his own label, Jatta Records: Hope & Doubt (2005), DEIDEM (2008), A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen (2010) and Pariah in Transit (2013).  Every release has been a musical montage that chronicles our modern day ills. Whether it’s an isolated story of human suffering and natural disasters (‘Rain Rain’, ‘Louisiana’), a humanized tale of war (‘B4 the War’, ‘Since Cain’) or environmental issues (‘Dark Clouds’), Weekes’ mission has been to draw audiences in with a message that encourages the listener to think, then act. ‘Sunny Innocents’, a track featured on A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen, Weekes shines a light on child sexual abuse. In it, he boldly states ‘Sunny innocents are lost to the woods, sunny innocents the guardians are no good, sunny innocents I pray their souls to keep, sunny innocents the wolf can’t guard the sheep.’

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Taj Weekes launching the Break the Silence campaign in St. Lucia

Through his journey as a musician, he made a conscious decision to use whatever celebrity and platform he was given to be the voice of the voiceless. He states, “When poverty, violence and disease are discussed, no one thinks about the Caribbean. It’s just a place to vacation and sit in the sun. They look at the bare feet of the children playing soccer in the street and don’t realize it’s because they have no shoes. It’s my mission to expand awareness and aid for these issues which equally affect the Caribbean, especially for the children and youth.” Even before he became a full time musician, Taj Weekes has been collecting and distributing soccer balls, equipment and gear from friends and family to bring to his homeland, St. Lucia. He would go to underserved communities on his own and give balls to children in need. In 2007, They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO) was born. TOCO is a U.S. based, not-for profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness and address the issues that affect Caribbean youth through sports, health and enrichment programs. To gain support and guidance, TOCO reached out to the late Dr. Hope White-Davis of the World Association of Former United Nation Interns and Fellows (WAFUNIF). With Dr. Hope’s assistance and insight, TOCO was able to shape its programs and target key areas in the Caribbean. In June 2009, TOCO embarked on its first mission trip to St. Lucia, delivering 500 soccer balls, 600 uniforms, equipment and gear to 3 underserved communities and officially launching TOCO’s first program, TOCO Soccer. During the trip, Weekes discovered that there was a diabetes crisis in St. Lucia, which has the highest rate of diabetes per capita in the world. TOCO was asked to partner with the St. Lucia Diabetes and Hypertension Association hence, prompting the creation of TOCO Health.

In November 2009, TOCO delivered 2700 glucometers to encourage St. Lucians to test themselves for diabetes and educate them on the importance of healthy living. To date, TOCO has grown to include the Clothesline Project, designed to address issues of domestic violence, an annual toy drive and a backpack program. Additionally, TOCO has expanded its reach to other Caribbean islands. In Trinidad, the TOCO team delivered soccer balls and gear to 2 underserved communities and in Haiti, TOCO sent over 3000 pairs of shoes after the 2010 earthquake.

Weekes’ tremendous commitment to serving the children of the Caribbean is evident in his hands on approach to implementing TOCO’s programs. He personally distributes donated items, lectures to high school and college students on topics ranging from volunteerism to acceptance and tolerance, and donates his own money to ensure that TOCO can fulfill its missions.

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Taj Weekes (right) with UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Ms. Khin-Sandi Lwin launching the Break the Silence Campaign.

His tireless efforts have gained the attention of UNICEF. In November 2013, Weekes was appointed as a UNICEF Champion for Children in St. Lucia. The official announcement was made in St. Lucia during the launch of the Break the Silence Campaign (BTS), a global initiative embraced by several countries to advocate for the rights of children and raise awareness of a wide range of issues. Weekes will be working with St. Lucia’s Ministry of Health, Gender and Social Development and other government entities to work on issues such as health, education and equality for all children.

In appointing Weekes as a Champion for Children, UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Area, Ms. Khin-Sandi Lwin states, “UNICEF is very pleased to have Taj Weekes on board as we work on bringing together a network of credible voices to advocate for the rights of Caribbean Children. His passion to care for children though his music and philanthropic work are the perfect ingredients to be UNICEF’s Champion for Children in St. Lucia, his home country. We look forward to working closely with him in applying his creative talents and networking skills to highlight the plight of children in St Lucia. UNICEF will also help him link up with other Champions for Children in the Eastern Caribbean countries to have the strength of numbers for a powerful voice for children.”

Weekes has also received some additional well-deserved attention: he was appointed Goodwill Ambassador by the International Consortium of Caribbean Professionals (ICCP), recognized formally by a division of the United Nations, and in 2012 was honored with the St. Lucia House Foundation’s Distinguished Humanitarian Award.
By definition, Taj Weekes is a musician. His music is a humanitarian mission to shine a light on the suffering of children and is a call to all of us to do something to make a change. His charitable work is proof of his words in action. He doesn’t follow a business model, he follows his own sense of what’s right and answers the call, without question or limits. It’s simply the right thing to do.