September 26th, 2009 MicControl: ‘Born In Babylon’ by SOJA

Right from the start, it is apparent that SOJA is not the typical, modern Reggae band, and Born In Babylon is not the typical, modern reggae album. If you're not clear on my stance- this is a very, very good thing. Too often in today's reggae music, songs lack advanced structure, and musicianship is overlooked, opting to focus solely on the lyrics. It seems to have become the reggae mantra that 'every song must present lyrics with the purpose of tackling real societal issues'. While reggae is very much about presenting societal issues, they are supposed to be a solution to induce brevity and unity- this is where so much of modern reggae fails. TAKE NOTICE! If there is one thing lacking here... �it is the one quote that has been beaten to death by every two-bit reggae band, which is 'peace, love and unity'. As if this statement alone establishes a reggae group as the voice of a struggling world, uniting people through their music. SOJA has found a good balance between uplifting song, meaningful lyrics, and finely tuned musicianship that lifts Born In Babylon above what else is being done today in a genre that screams 'Revolution!', yet has conformed to the likes of Bob Marley for more than 3 decades.�

What SOJA has been able to do lyrically, is create songs that reflect on personal issues or struggles that everyone can identify with on a personal and society-wide level. Whether the topic is losing a loved one, or making a life changing decision, the lyrics are always presented from a first-person perspective, creating a connection between the music and the listener on a personal level, even if the topic is broad enough to move an entire group of people.�

But what truly separates SOJA from all the rest is their focus on the music. While lyrics have always been a focus in reggae, the music is almost as often overlooked. �Ever since Bob Marley came and went, the world of reggae music has followed the misconception that his lyrics alone where what was able to take the world by storm. While his lyrics were astonishingly deep, his music was also brilliantly arranged. Go ahead and listen to 'Could You Be Loved'- notice the wonderful lyrics, but also notice the perfectly timed chord changes, the multiple layers of vocal melodies, the harmonies, and the overall density of the music. There is no space left. This is much more than just upstroke guitar and lyrics with a message, this is a beautifully written and arranged piece of music. SOJA, thankfully has fully realized this same thing, and has acted upon the same musical ideologies. While there is still upstroke guitar, there are strategically placed harmonies, interesting chord changes, and reactive rhythm changes that drive the songs further than just a steady reggae beat with a nice melody and hook. But if not to just settle there, SOJA also complements the songs with the occasional hip-hop verses, ferocious guitar solos (track 09, I Tried), and some of the most original and thoughtful horn arrangements I have ever heard in a reggae tune (Track 07, Decide You're Gone).�

Reggae has a very characteristic sound, one that is upbeat and melodic. But too much of today's reggae has become simply an outlet for a message, and not an outlet for the music to speak the message. The sound of reggae that was once the sound of hope, is now that of a cliche. Born In Babylon is a breath of fresh air in a genre that is suffocating from a lack of talented, and original songwriting. With the emphasis on created well rounded songs, Born In Babylon is fantastic from start to finish. Each song maintains the constant of a positive message, but the song forms vary enough to avoid sounding repetitive. The creativity shown throughout this album is hard to find in any genre, but is especially nice to here from a genre so long over due.

September 21st, 2009 SOJA play Boulder’s Fox Theatre

SOJA play Boulder's Fox Theatre

SOJA under the lights
Photo: Chip Kalback
SOJA putting on an awesome live show

I never would've thought I'd hear about a reggae group coming out of the D.C. area, but I suppose if Bad Brains can do it then SOJA have a good chance at seeing the same success Bad Brains did. SOJA, Soldiers Of Jah Army, formed around '97, but I personally didn't hear of them until their song 'You Don't Know Me' Level 1 Productions' ski flick, REALTIME. Since then I've been a fan of the group and have had the pleasure of seeing them perform live twice now. They're currently touring in support of their new album, Born In Babylon, and recently they just played in Boulder, CO at concert powerhouse Fox Theatre. Their live shows are really what make them stand out to me, and apparently the rest of the sold out crowd who got to see them do what they do best. Check the photo gallery to see what you missed, and if they're headed to your town soon make sure to set aside some ticket money because the price will be well worth what you'll get to see that night.

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September 17th, 2009 Review: SOJA show strikes symphonic gold

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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September 14th, 2009 SOJA - A new Brand of Reggae

SOJA - A new Brand of Reggae

SOJA in Denver

May 8, 2009 Denver, Co

SOJAs music and energetic stage shows speaks for itself. Brimming with well founded confidence, and backing it with a set filled with infectious energy, SOJA provided a glimpse into their promising future, and gave credence to their current success, as they bothpromoted their pending release, Born in Babylon, and supported their 2008 release Stars and Stripes at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver this past weekend.

Although the majority of SOJA inspiration comes from the offbeat of Reggae, inflections of rock, funk and hip hop also combine to create a dynamic sound which has become all their own. Dancing around various styles while keeping true to their reggae roots, SOJA continues to give evidence to the critical acclaim that has followed them the past few years.

I rarely plan the show ahead of time, Jacob Hemphill, theconfident and forward looking SOJA front man commented before the show. The first song is where I start to gain my focus, and I let the crowd help determine where we will go. With inspirational and passionate showmanship, and a voice which inflects well with the variety of SOJAs sound, Mr. Hemphill quickly worked with the crowd to inject, as well as draw, energy.

Mr. Hemphills melodic vocal approach is balanced well with Bob Jeffersons enigmatic and driving voice. Mr. Jefferson is the vocal force of the dancehall inspired bass rhythms (note that he plays the bass himself in double duty) mixed throughout the set and draws inspiration, as he will let you know, by artists such as Anthony B. Together, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Hemphill combine to create a dynamic variety of styles indicative of the approach SOJA brings to the stage and to their music.

Bob Jefferson of SOJA in DenverThe quintet has been together since 1997 and produces a polished sound behind the inspired and thoughtful vocals. Refreshingly, they are quick to note that their success can be given to a strong bond of solidarity and focus on a common goal.

With much of the music coming from Jamaica flirting with hip hop more than the offbeat, the fast growing American Roots genre within the reggae tree has been flourishing, as evidenced by apacked house at Cervantesin Denver this past weekend. SOJA, heralding from the DC region of the US, is yet another example of this growing trend in roots reggae.

Following the success of John Browns Body, from upstate New York, and Groundation from the west coast, SOJA is another successful and inspirational American reggae band that brings their own legions of fans to the positive and dynamic approach to their music. They are dialed in and their attention to detail with their set supports that fact. With an average of 150 road dates a year, a new DVD release SOJA: Live in Hawaii and a pending release of their new album Born in Babylon, SOJAs future is bright indeed.

Local talent in Denver, and Colorado, continue to impress each year. Lion Vibes matched the energy that would soon come with SOJA with a polished set of their own. DJ Yahru continues to improve upon every previous performance, and his well thought out approach has helped sets have become a much anticipated draw.

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September 10th, 2009 SOJA hits the stage at DubFest 2009

SOJA hits the stage at DubFest 2009

Young Circle, Hollywood


Their music features an evolving message.

They have the familiar reggae feel with a dash of Latin flavor.

They have more than seven members in the band, yet they play as one entity.

SOJA, Soldiers of Jah Army, is the new face of Reggae music in America.

Based in Arlington, Va., SOJA has music that combines reggae, rock and even Hispanic music.

Their music gave me the sense that SOJA is a reggae cousin of the Dave Matthews Band. Not only did the band feature the typical guitar and bass, but also a trumpet, saxophone and bongo drums.

Acoustics aside, the band's music contains a strong message. It has evolved with each album, but it is always attributed the king of reggae, Bob Marley.

The insert in their latest album, Born in Babylon, states: God is with you and believes in you; you just have to believe in yourself. The message is super rootsy, mostly sad love songs, lead singer Jacob Hemphill said.

The band's performance at Dubfest 2009 in Hollywood was a hit. Teens and adults alike listened intently or simply swayed to the easy going music.

Born in Babylon is the No. 3 reggae album on iTunes, ahead of albums by Ziggy Marley, Matisyahu and Bob Marley.

SOJA has been hitting it big but they haven't forgotten their fans. At the end of their set, CDs were thrown into the crowd.

The band sounded just as grateful as the fans for being given the opportunity to play an incredible show.

Everyone seems to love the album, Hemphill said. We just love freaking out and playing together for the fans.

September 10th, 2009 Message still matters for reggae band SOJA

Message still matters for reggae band SOJA

Loveland Reporter-Herald When Jacob Hemphill was younger, he knew he would do something great with his life, along with his closest friends, of course. Hemphill has accomplished his dream as a talented vocalist and guitarist with his Washington, D.C.-based band, SOJA, which will perform Sunday, May 10, at Hodis Half Note in Fort Collins.

Hemphill is living the idealized rock n roll fantasy along with longtime friends and band members Bob Jefferson, who plays bass and also sings lead vocals, percussionist Ken Brownell, drummer Ryan Berty and keyboardist Patrick OShea.

Were trying to get reggae back in the mainstream, reggae how it used to be when the message mattered, said Hemphill.

With a sound reminiscent of Bob Marley meets Sublime and a bit of rock n roll to boot, SOJA (Soldiers of Jah Army) appeals to a vast crowd with hits such as I Dont Wanna Wait, which is the bands symbolic interpretation of the current problems plaguing modern-day society.

We talk about issues that I think are important, explained Hemphill. Its just like a social commentary.

The band will be playing old and new music when it hits the Fort Collins stage for the first time.

Were trying to get the message and the music out as far as possible, and were doing a lot of dates on this tour that weve never done before, said Hemphill.

Also to be featured, in anticipation of the upcoming album Born in Babylon, which is expected to be released in late summer, are many new singles, including I Dont Wanna Wait, according to Elliot Harrington, band manager. Born to Babylon will be the bands third full-length album and its 11th release in all.

When we started out we were really rootsy and then we experimented with a couple of other things, but now we are getting back to doing more root stuff, said Hemphill. So I guess its kind of been a circle for us.

With profound lyrics, Hemphill and his band exude the essence of modern-day reggae and have found a foothold among fans with their soul-barring sound that likely will appease any music lover.

Were very energetic, said Hemphill. Its a really powerful show with a lot of emphasis on the live show itself.

Copyright 2009 Loveland Publishing Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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September 7th, 2009 CD Review: Born in Babylon

CD Review: Born in Babylon

SOJA�s Third Album Delivers Solid Work

Melissa Kucirek

Washington, DC-bred reggae rock band, SOJA, third release Born in Babylon is a positive collection of emotive lyrics and multi-faceted songs.

Immediately into the first song of Born in Babylon, it�s evident that the musicianship and art form from SOJA is beyond the run-of-the-mill reggae sound. SOJA takes reggae�s foundation � of solid percussion and cadence�and transforms its sound to a collection of American-rock sounding pieces.

SOJA is a band with a strong foundation of friendship and artists; as a listener it�s obvious to hear that the tightness of this band is toned and still evolving. At times lyrics on the album can be simplistic, but as in a pop song, they become catchy. Each song is a celebration.

The title track, which also happens to be the first song, is at first long-winded. An inner-struggle is perceived through the lyrics, and the chance to overcome. But saving this world just comes with a cost�notes the Jacob Hemphill-penned lyrics.

Band's Roots

Hemphill shares vocals (and plays guitar) with childhood friend, Bob Jefferson (bass). The two remained friends, and then throughout middle school and their high school years, they teamed up with Patrick O�Shea (keyboards), Ryan Berty (drums) and Ken Brownell (percussion).

Following its first effort Soldiers of Jah Army EP in 2000, the band established itself as credible artists in the reggae community. Produced by Jim Fox, what made the album so important was that Fox had not planned to work with American artists.