October 12th, 2009 Interview: SOJA On A New Album And Life In A Touring Band

SOJA, an up-and-coming reggae band out of Washington D.C., recently released a new album entitled Born In Babylon, which was reviewed here last week. Although SOJA is currently on an international tour, Jacob Hemphill (lead vocals/ guitar) took some time out to do an interview with me:


MicControl: What is the significance of the title of your new album 'Born In Babylon'?

Jacob Hamphill: "Born in Babylon" is supposed to tell the traditional roots story, but through our eyes, our perspective. �From the northern hemisphere, we want to address the issues that traditional reggae deals with, world issues.�

MC: I read that you love Rock and Hip-Hop, but you feel there is something missing in the message. Care to elaborate on that?�

JH: It's not really that hip hop and rock are missing something, it's more like reggae has a social commentary, a social responsibility too. �We're into that. �Bob Marley sang love songs and party songs too, but mainly he was singing about the way of the world, the good, the bad, and everything in between. �To me, that's bigger than most music.�

MC: What is the message you are trying to get across through your music?�

JH: Our message is to push people to make decisions for themselves, and not be intimidated by what the world says. �I don't really put a period on anything. �It's just a discussion, not a sermon. �Who are you voting for? �Who makes your clothes? �Where does your food come from? �Who makes your decisions? �Do you know? �No? �Because it matters. �Discuss.�

MC: What drew you to promote this through your music? Do you feel empathy for others or is there a personal conflict?

JH: Not sure how to answer that. �We all were drawn in on different levels I guess. �For me, I lived overseas in Africa as a kid, and in a couple of different economic demographics while growing up. �I think maybe after that, you start to identify with all kinds, reggae seems like pretty good music to do that.�

MC: SOJA is known for touring a lot- your current average per year is 150 shows. What makes the band so presentable at live shows?

JH: Like why don't we look like shit? �Haha yeah, we tour a lot. �But, we love it, it's not hard when everyone is friends in the band. �We've been together forever, some since high school, some since first grade. �Makes it easy. �We hear about other bands fighting over stuff, seems like what's the point? �If you don't like your band you're screwed, period.�

MC: Do you feel that at the live shows, the music is still about spreading a message? Or does the energy take over?

JH: No idea really. �For me it is about energy mostly. �But sometimes I get into what I am singing, I cry a lot when that happens. �I'm just kidding... mostly for us, it is about the energy. �I hope for the audience it is 50/50.

MC:�After listening to your music, I have to say I am quite impressed with the level of musicianship on the album. Do you find that a lot of reggae artists tend to leave the musicianship behind, as to not underwhelm the message?

JH: Most reggae is simple, and that is fine. �I think the idea of reggae is you come with a catchy hook and a rough bass line. �That's great, but we got sick of doing it. �We're on our fourth album, we play for ourselves at the end of the day. �Thanks for saying that!�

MC: Where can people buy the album?

JH: It is exclusively on iTunes, you can get it on our website www.sojamusic.com - and you can come to our shows and buy a hard copy. �It's cool!

October 9th, 2009 SOJA to bring reggae culture to The Green Elephant in Dallas

Dallas isnt a place usually associated with reggae music or reggae culture. Hippies dont roam the streets, independent vendors lining popular squares are nonexistent, and there are no big fields in which music lovers can congregate. However, Tuesday, October 13 will be a landmark day for the reggae scene in Dallas. Washington D.C.-based band SOJA is coming to The Green Elephant with Columbian trio Movement Vibe and local reggae innovators Ugly Lion to play their first show ever in the great Lone Star State.

Soldiers of Jah Army, SOJA for short, began when middle school friends Jacob Hemphill (vocals and guitar) and Bob Jefferson (bass) met Patrick OShea (keyboards), Ryan Berty (drums), and Ken Brownell (percussion). They all had one thing in common: a growing passion for peace and reggae music.

As a band birthed in the new millennium, SOJA produced three full length albums, two EPs, and a collaboration disc under the name Syr Mahber. Their newest album, Born in Babylon, released in August 2009, is arguably a collection demonstrating the perfect form of reggae.

The ability to directly integrate the audience into the song is what sets Born in Babylon apart from other reggae compilations. The disc opens track two, Losing My Mind, with a drum roll and then immediately seduces the listener with a fluid horn section. Caught in a trance, the listener follows Hemphill�s voice down memory lane as he proclaims nostalgia so earnest, it provokes a personal desire for the past.

The CD�s first single, �I Don�t Wanna Wait,� can make an advocate out of anyone. Hemphill calls for action to right societal wrongs claiming that time is a luxury we, as humans, have run out of. The lyrics are heartfelt and the music is lush, filling every emotional cavity to the point it�s physically uncontrollable. It would take a full body straight jacket to keep from dancing.

Born in Babylon above all demonstrates SOJA�s creativity and musical diversity. Track four, �Bleed Through,� is a hip hop fusion featuring Black Boo of Mambo Sauce. When he interjects over the melody, �I swear you never really miss until it�s half gone; then you tighten up your grip tryin� to hold on,� Boo creates intrigue and balance unmatched anywhere else on the album. It�s like putting that one ice cube in your glass of wine.

The integration of string instruments on You and Me, activates a visual storyline of two people. The lyrics describe time spent close together dancing and in bed, but the strings depict the two separating and walking down an endless horizon in opposite directions.

Born in Babylon is SOJAs most honest and illustrious album. It utilizes the fundamental concepts of Bob Marley, the airy vocal style of Rebelution, and the emotional conviction of Grimy Styles, but it doesnt sound like any of these artists. Its original and unique as each song sifts through universal questions, self-discovery, heartbreak, and desire for peace and unity.

SOJA is leading a wave of modernism in music by adding new ideas to familiar styles. If they do all this from a stereo, can you imagine what they will do live?

Tickets cost $15 and are available to purchase at the door the day of the show. In addition, tickets are available before the day of the show at The Green Elephant, from Mike McDonald of Swamphouse Industries at 214-506-8292, from Luke at Retro Revolution on Greenville Ave., or by e-mailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read full article here: http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2009/oct/08/soja-bring-reggae-culture-green-elephant-dallas


October 1st, 2009 Jambase Review SOJA: Born in Babylon


By: Jake Krolick

Building off of their 2006 breakthrough reggae release, Get Wiser, SOJA's Jacob Hemphill, Bob Jefferson, Ryan Berty, Ken Brownell and Patrick Oshea pour their lion hearts and communally conscious lyrics into a third album, Born In Babylon. Their time touring through Hawaii seemed to have a greater affect on them than just a DVD and some live shows. Their previously punchy drum and bass reggae sounds have hopped a flight to a promised land filled with purple and gold sunsets of smooth, flowing rhythms that shimmer with the effortless drip that is the essence of reggae. These songs work magic on one's psyche by not raising the pulse as much as they expand the mind and lift the shoulders of a society that needs more positive minded storytellers that sooth with their craft instead of destroying.

SOJA had just started to scratch the surface of well-built reggae on their previous efforts, cultivating a depth that pushed them uniquely apart from the multitude of rock steady beats and so-called reggae stars around the globe. With Born In Babylon, we hear even more of that depth as each song manages to grow into something worthwhile and distinctive, while the free-flowing rhythms keep the record's tracks anchored to one another. The songs are timely hymns focused on our modern day struggle with global issues. Each theme is dealt with in a way that lets the listener relate without alienating some group or section of the globe. There is a significant depth and poignancy throughout Born In Babylon that stands out on several of the tracks where violin, viola and cello echo the tone of Hemphill's high-pitched voice and make up the choir to his songs. SOJA plays in a realm similar to the one Ben Harper went towards on his album Fight For Your Mind and Citizen Cope echoed on his Clarence Greenwood Recordings ballad "Sideways."

However, SOJA does not turn a blind eye to the greats of the roots reggae world. You can clearly hear hope and love flowing through Hemphill's voice as he sings original consciously minded reggae with the conviction of an old soul. He strikes me as a man well beyond the years he has already lived on the earth (or what he refers to as his "blue and green church" in "Waking Up"). At the record's core are simple messages that build into complex stories. Sitting on the top of these 14 tracks is SOJA's wildly catchy prayer for the world, encapsulated by "Waking Up" and "Here I Am," whose finger plucked guitar style and gentle melody plays out like an homage to Bob Marley's masterpiece, "Redemption Song." Both tracks grab at your neck and place a bump in your step while expanding your mind with multifaceted ideas of what is right and wrong in the universe.

Don't call me one and only/ Just call me when you get lonely / Something that gets her there/ So feel better and get well/ There is no time without this pain / There is no time without again ("Here I Am")

Turbulent times call for uplifting music and a hopeful sprit. Born In Babylon offers a refuge from the negative vibes found throughout most people's daily grind on the highways, interwebs, and elsewhere in this mass consumer, media driven world hell-bent on preacher convictions and reporter glory. Hemphill, Jefferson, Berty, Brownell and Oshea inject their reggae with the sort of love and hope that holds us on this spinning globe of life, while simultaneously stirring us to action and movement as they elevate this art form to new heights.

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Read full article here: http://www.jambase.com/Articles/19793/SOJA-Born-in-Babylon