SOJA Biography

Nearly two decades ago, SOJA began as high school friends in a D.C. area basement teaching each other to be musicians and play roots reggae music. Today, the 2x GRAMMY-nominated eight-piece band, with over 7 million online followers and over 300 million Youtube views, headlines concerts all over the world for their massive dedicated fanbase. Even with their continued success, SOJA always wants to remember their time together in that basement inspired by each other’s contributions and ideas. The feeling of true magic, collaboration and brotherhood that started it all is still evident today in their music and each night at their live concerts. For their latest studio album, Poetry In Motion (Oct 27 2017), it was essential for SOJA to consciously go back to the beginning and recapture that same sincere, collaborative magic sparked 20 years ago.

SOJA, left to right: Bobby Lee, Ryan Berty, Hellman Escorcia, Jacob Hemphill, Patrick O’Shea, Rafael Rodriguez, Ken Brownell, Trevor Young

“For your whole life money is the thing you’re scarce on,” frontman Jacob Hemphill says. “Then once you get busy enough time becomes the thing you’re most scarce on. So spending time at home becomes your most valuable commodity and then the collaborative process starts taking place over the phone and email instead of in person. For Poetry In Motion we asked ourselves, ‘What if we went back to the beginning and wrote, arranged, recorded and produced the entire thing together?’ All eight guys in one room to create something special. That was the approach to this record – to make something we truly love and did all together.”

The band set up at Haunted Hollow Studios, Dave Matthews Band’s studio, near Charlottesville, VA. The idea was to live and work together in one place, investing all their energy into the process. They spent three months in the studio over several sessions in late 2016 and early 2017, spending hours sitting on the back porch discussing music and life. Everyone showed up with new ideas, new instruments and new gear. The band enlisted Rob Evans, Ivan Guitierrez and Mariano Aponte to coproduce the songs, and there was an open-minded sentiment throughout. “It was a learning and experimenting process,” Jacobs notes. “We got the exact thing we wanted from it.”

The album’s 11 tracks embrace reggae completely, focusing on what the genre does best. They referred often to their 2009 album, Born In Babylon, to remind them of where they came from and how they’d like to go forward. Poetry In Motion is the beginning of a chapter, but it’s also a return to the past. It’s a revitalization of what made SOJA so special to begin with. It’s about eight guys in one room making reggae music that truly means something.

“We’re going back to our roots and what we do best,” Jacob says. “We’re remembering why we started this band and the magic of what we’ve built. We were lucky enough to create our own family and we picked every brother by hand. This album feels like we’ve had an amazing family reunion. It’s a blueprint for our future.”

Poetry In Motion continues the band’s belief that music should speak for people and uplift them. The album looks at the world today and asks why it feels like something is wrong when so much exists around us. “Fire In the Sky,” propulsive and upbeat, takes the positive outlook on humanity while “Life Support,” a more introspective song, tackles the negative outlook. All the other tracks fall somewhere in the middle, as Jacob and the band grapple with the human condition, unafraid of big topics and essential life queries.

“The definition of the title is three-fold,” Jacob says. “I’m poetry, the band’s motion. The human race and the animals and plants that are spinning around on this Earth are beautiful – it’s poetry flying through the universe in motion. And then, thirdly, we are this beautiful poetry but we keep moving away from it. Right now it feels like we’re moving in the wrong direction and it’s scary.”

The album poses questions but never takes on a definitive reply. SOJA isn’t offering an answer. Instead, the answers are out there for each listener to find on their own.”There’s no periods on anything,” Jacob notes. “I give hints and glimpses, but my own opinions on the human condition change every year. Sometimes I’m climbing, sometimes I’m sliding. So maybe I’m not the right guy to be answering questions. But I can ask all these questions that matter and help people. I’m out there fishing for the next person.”

His ultimate goal with each song is simple. “How do I make the human condition come into this song?” he says. “How do I relate to the biggest family of all time? That’s all I’m ever really trying to do.”

SOJA’s energetic, impassioned live performances have a similar effect. Averaging around 120 shows a year for the last decade, SOJA has toured with acts that include Dave Matthews Band, 311 and Incubus, and engaged a massive international fan base of die-hard followers at festivals that include Bonnaroo, Hangout Festival, Wakarusa, Cali Roots, Summerjam Germany, Woodstock Poland, Personal Festival Argentina, Ziget Festival Hungry and many more. Their live shows offer people a chance to look both inward and outward, and feel part of a global community, particularly since SOJA has headlined shows in over 30 countries. For SOJA, everything is about connection, whether it’s with the world around them or within the band. “Nothing worth doing in life can you do by yourself,” Jacob notes. “We’re in this together.” ❖

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SOJA Band Members

Jacob Hemphill - Lead vocals, Guitar
Jacob Hemphill – Lead vocals, Guitar

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“I want to speak for people who don’t have microphones,” Jacob Hemphill says. “Our goal as a band is to stick up for the human race. We see the world and we try to make it better in the limited time we have here.”

Bobby Lee - Bass, Vocals
Bobby Lee – Bass, Vocals

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“The biggest motivation I have on a daily basis is knowing that people are waiting in the audience every night to be entertained and with a mind state that they can’t wait for positive vibes and a conscious message that we convey through our music.”

  • Also known as Bumble Blee

Ryan Berty - Drums
Ryan Berty – Drums

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“Big changes are often caused by many people each making small changes, so anything you can do to help benefit the greater good, big or small, will make a difference…”

Kenny Bongos - Percussion
Ken Brownell – Percussion

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“The biggest life lesson I’ve learned really deals with how Ive come to define success and that is, investing in the growth of my own mind, my deep empathy and my ability and action to treat people the way they should be treated to a positive effect. Investing in and progressing your own humanity within, is the real cornerstone of success to me. When I began to do this, it touched everything else in my life, transformed all my relationships and lifted my entire world. Simply put, the study of self and growth of our well being must never cease.”

  • Also known as Kenny Bongos
  • Born Dec. 30th in Washington D.C.
  • Loves soccer, green smoothies, stand up paddle boarding, logistics and good coffee
  • Has dozens of other nicknames like Chimps, Chan and Mistah Q
  • Went to high school overseas in The Hague, Netherlands
  • Lives in Tampa, FL since 2013
  • Loves roller coasters but gets sick on the tea cups
  • Extremely good at ping pong and foosball. Challenge him!
  • Big fan of Deepak Chopra, Noam Chomsky, Michael Ruppert and Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Favorite percussionist: Go-Go Mickey. Look him up people!
  • In another life: Starting left forward for DC United
  • Would like to thank his brother Matt Brownell for all his hard work and support of SOJA

Patrick O'Shea - Keyboards
Patrick O’Shea – Keyboards

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“I am a believer in the saying that there is nothing new under the sun. Not to say that there are no new accomplishments, because there certainly are. But I feel like the human race is one big interconnected being. So we are all small parts making something bigger. Competition helps us strive for new levels of accomplishment. We all inspire each other in so many aspects of life. So in essence, my inspiration comes from all forms of life past, present, and future. I can only hope I am able to contribute to this massive pool of ideas to inspire others, as I have been inspired by them.”

Hellman Escorcia - Saxophone
Hellman Escorcia – Saxophone

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“El amor lo es todo, conozco el amor gracias a mi familia y mis ancestros, sin ellos ni siquiera estubiera vivo. El amor es libertad y es la única manera de sentirse vivo. Amar es único y esta en peligro de extinsión ya que no todo el mundo sabe como se siente y como en realidad es. Las personas que en realidad aman son bendecidos por todo el universo y aunque hayan personas que traten de eliminar el amor que uno tiene a la vida, siempre la madre naturaleza está para mantenernos vivos ante toda adversidad, como nuestros ancestros los hicieron y lo siguen haciendo del más allá.”

  • Also known as Helms
  • From Venezuela

Rafael Rodriguez - Trumpet
Rafael Rodriguez – Trumpet

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“Surround yourself with people who make you a better person and be kind.” I will always remember words from my music teacher Mr. Luis “P​erico” Ortiz, who was one of the greatest Latin trumpet players. He​ gave me the greatest advice that​ I will take with me forever. I remember that day. He told me that​ today’s class​ was going to be without instruments. Instead,​ he needed to tell me something very important. We sat and spoke about life and while I just wanted to play, he gave me a lecture on how important it i​s to be a good person first before being anything else. He explained that you could be the best at what you do but it amounts to nothing if you’re not a good human being. This is ​because good relationships are what will stay even when whatever you are the best at is over. I left that classroom and kept thinking about that and how some people are the best at what they do but aren’t lucky enough to be​ surrounded by​ good people. So from that day ​on I’ve ​always ​ ​tried to be the best I can with ​ my instrument but more importantly a good person above all.”

  • Also known as Rafa
  • From Puerto Rico

Trevor Young - Lead guitar
Trevor Young – Lead guitar

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“My dad came home one day after work with a black fender stratocaster copy. It looked exactly like Eric Clapton’s who was one of my all time favorites. He started taking guitar lessons and I immediately knew I wanted to do the same thing. That moment to me changed everything and has made me who I am today.”