With prospects for providing viable social and economic benefits to a selection of African states- Taj Weekes and his TOCO –They Often Cry Outreach foundation, is set to embark on an inspirational ‘Hands Across Africa’ mammoth sojourn.
According to Taj, this festival will be different from regular stage shows, with the intention to also supply people with subsistence provisions.
A team of some world-renowned artistes has joined the cause and is fully committed to making this event a memorable and eventful occasion.
Having been ‘blown away’ by the positive and inspirational vibes that he experienced on a trip to Africa, Taj says, he was moved beyond compassion to do something tangible for the ‘brothers and sisters’ in the Motherland – Africa.
Taj had been invited to perform at a festival in Ghana, last year, and he felt impelled ‘to give something back ’, so on that visit to Ghana he took along 5,000 pairs of shoes to distribute to the country’s school children.
“When I came back from Ghana, I felt that I needed to do something more for Africa …and paying attention to the whole African- Caribbean summit and what it was trying to do, by bridging the gap between the continent and the Diaspora,” Taj explained.
He says that seeing that nothing had happened “we decided to put love into action” and so he teamed up with a crew of musicians to set the vibes in motion. The group includes artistes such as Brinsley Ford of Aswad, Michael Rose, formerly of Black Uhuru, Kenyatta Hill, and son of Joseph Hill of Culture fame.
“So I run the idea by them and everybody was cool with it,” says Taj, as he urged them to “let’s go to Africa and give something back.”
What is the source of funding for the project?
Taj explained that while the initial funding will come from his personal funds and from ‘seed money’, they also plan to reach out to governments and corporate entities to help promote this venture.
“What we’re doing is that it’s not just a festival, it’s a festival and an expo,” he said. “So what we are going to do, is that we are giving governments or whatever organisation – that need a voice, a three to four-minute platform where they can advertise in between the artistes changing and they can tell the world what their story is.”
This component is expected to serve as a sort of ‘promotional marketing’ boost for those entities that partner with the project.
“In order for the Caribbean and the Diaspora to start having a conversation, the people must recognise more of their similarities and not their differences,” noted Taj. “So by doing these things you are letting people see that they are alike because while I was in Ghana, I felt like I was in St Lucia.”
Taj admits that he holds strong views on the global ‘Black Liberation Struggle’ and more recently as an activist and advocate with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
The musical performances on tour will consist of four ‘stable artistes’, says Taj, “and every country we go to we (will) use the local artistes in that country”.
The ‘Hands Across Africa’ tour is due to take off in April; with gigs at two separate venues in South Africa, and then it’s on to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ruanda, Kenya, Tasmania, Senegal, Gambia, and Ghana.
Work projects and performances are set for the weekends and Taj adds: “What is very important is a large portion- more than half of the monies that are raised- will go back to the very country where we performed”.
He asserted: “We’ve been talking about Africa for a very long time, but now we have to stop talking and we have to start doing.
“As reggae musicians, we’ve spoken about Africa, plenty …but now we need to start giving more than just a tea bag to Africa.”
Taj feels the message in the music about ‘African Liberation Struggles’ goes deep, and he places Mosiah Marcus Garvey at the forefront of the struggle that laid the foundation for legends such as Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, and others to follow.
He said they were tapping into the deeper ‘source’ of the liberation struggles that encompasses the likes of HIM Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela, “and that’s the source that we are going to because these brothers lived there …the other brothers sang songs and made people aware, but we are going to the source and we are doing things on the ground that is sustainable and substantial.”
With a band of renowned musicians that have performed at ‘big festivals’ all over the globe, the task of putting together a gig is no hassle, Taj explains, as the artistes are all onboard to support the notion “of what we are trying to accomplish”.
“Beyond all this, what we need to do is to encourage people to go back to Africa…because Africa is absolutely beautiful and what they show to us on television is not what Africa is,” declares Taj.
“There is a lot to learn about the continent (Africa), there’s a lot to discover, there is a lot to see …and in order for our lives to improve as Black people everywhere, we have to lend our hand in Africa and do our part,” he adds.