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.
Read full article here: MicControl: http://miccontrol.com/#/blog/2009/09/28/born-in-babylon-soja/