Review: SOJA show strikes symphonic gold

D.C. band comes to the Fox

Lead singer and guitarist for SOJA, Jacob Hemphill, performs at the Fox Theatre Tuesday night. (CU Independent/Molly Maher)

Lead singer and guitarist for SOJA, Jacob Hemphill, performs at the Fox Theatre Tuesday night. (CU Independent/Molly Maher)

Soldiers of Jah Army, commonly known as SOJA, is a reggae band out of Washington D.C. famous for their powerful live performances.

The band has been together for 12 years, and in that time has grown from a local phenomenon to having huge followings internationally. SOJAs latest album, Born in Babylon, was released Aug. 25.

SOJA consists of Kenneth Brownell (percussion), Bobby Lee (bass/vocals) and Jacob Hemphill (guitar/vocals), Patrick OShea (keys), and Ryan Berty (drums).

SOJA creates intricate music but maintains a level of improvisation on stage, making their live shows so powerful. The band has been together for the last twelve years.

Were like brothers so that helps, because we knew each other for 13 years before that [12 years] anyways, Lee said. We all grew up together and it just carries over into the band.

The name Soldiers of Jah Army suggests the band might have religious roots, but this is a common misconception.

Its not religious in the sense that you know we follow only one belief; we try to find truth from every religion, so you cant really say its religious music, Lee said.

The bands name was inspired by a common phrase the band members would say when they were younger.

SOJA gets the crowd dancing Tuesday night. (CU Independent/Molly Maher

SOJA gets the crowd dancing Tuesday night. (CU Independent/Molly Maher

We wore a lot of camouflage and people always asked us why, Lee said. We were young, we would be like, Were soldiers of jah army, thats whassup! and then we were coming up with a name for the band and it just fit.

SOJA may be considered a reggae band, but their unique message combines elements of faith, politics, and love. Hemphill explained the reason reggae was so important to them was the message it had to offer.

Its different from other types of music; its world-changing, life-changing, people-changing, Hemphill said.We want it to be something more than just music, to have an effect on the world.

The politically-charged lyrics of songs like Peace in a Time of War and Rasta Courage can be traced back to growing up in Washington D.C.Being from the nations capital made politics a huge part of SOJAs music.

Its time-specific to whats going on in the world and being conscious, Hemphill said. Its what I see is going on now plus a bunch of love songs.

At the SOJA concert, fans poured into the theatre and filled up the dance floor. The excitement in the crowd was palpable as everyone waited for the headliner to take stage.

Kristy Miller, a sophomore open-option major, said she has seen SOJA live over 20 different times all over the country, giving credence to the impressiveness of the bands live show.

SOJAs live show is absolutely amazing; you have to experience it to know what Im talking about, Miller said.

The SOJA audience. (CU Independent/Maria DiManna)

The SOJA audience. (CU Independent/Maria DiManna)

The lights went down low as SOJA took the stage.Shouts of What up, D.C! and Light it up! could be heard from the crowd.

As soon as the band started playing the audience was in a trance. The organic texture of the music was evidence of the bands synergy after playing together for 12 years.

Hemphills soulful vocals carried the lyrics as the bass and drums moved the crowd. A saxophone and trumpet helped flesh out the music, adding another level of intricacy to the sound.

The crowd was chanting the words to every song played. Along with songs off of Born in Babylon, SOJA played classics such as Cant Tell Me, You Dont Know Me and True Love.

Despite the large crowd, the show was intimate as the band steered from their set list to improvise in between songs. SOJA took some song requests from fans, a rare occurrence for live shows.

Brownell said he hopes the audience leaves SOJAs shows with a new attitude about something theyve been contemplating recently and having had a good time.

A lot of times when you have a moment at a show it comes from when people find inspiration in songs that help them realize how to make their lives better and to not take for granted whats already in their life, Brownell said.

Even by SOJAs standards, this show was powerful.

That was the best show Ive seem them play so far out of all the ones Ive been to! Miller said.

Tune in to SOJAs music here.

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