January 25, 2015
“When you think about symbols of freedom Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta, Malcolm X, Kennedy, Lincoln, Ghandi, Mother Teresa all of them had one thing in common, they loved people and believed in the good of the human race, that humans deserve better than this. But everywhere we have gone in the world, the greatest symbol of freedom is Bob Marley’s face. Jamaica gave the world a guy you got to look up to and when we finally reach Jamaica, we are going to take it really seriously.” – Jacob Hemphill, Lead Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist with the 2015 Grammy nominated US Reggae Band SOJA
They have toured the world attracting audiences upwards of 10,000 patrons at their concerts throughout South America, in Puerto Rico and on their hometown Virginia/Washington DC turf but the upcoming debut appearance by American reggae band SOJA at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival (January 29-31, Trelawny Multi Purpose Stadium, Falmouth, about 25 minutes outside of Montego Bay) fulfills the group’s long held goal of performing in reggae’s birthplace.
“We were waiting for the right time to perform in Jamaica; me, Bobby Lee (bass) and Ryan Berty (drums) have been doing this since we were 13 and we learned everything from Jamaica through its music and books and movies about its music,” acknowledged Hemphill.
The nucleus of SOJA was formed in an Arlington, Virginia junior high school; today the band boasts eight members: Patrick O’Shea (keyboards); Ken Brownell (percussion); Trevor Young (lead guitar, vocals), a lively Latin horn section comprised of Hellman Escorcia (saxophone) and Rafael Rodriguez (trumpet) as well as their Kingston, Jamaica-born engineer Soljie Hamilton.
SOJA’s multi-genre inclusive brand retains reggae’s signature drum and bass driven rhythms and, especially, its socially conscious lyrics that entertain but also enlighten and ideally, inspire change. “What we are trying to do is the same thing that Jamaicans were trying to do in the ’70s, change the world, that’s always been the main point of reggae to me,” Hemphill stated.
“Listen to Bob Marley, there was a lot of special stuff going on there and I wish there was music like his on (mainstream) radio today.”
Last year SOJA cracked the rigidly formatted U.S. radio mainstream with their self-empowerment themed single “I Believe” (featuring Michael Franti and Nahko) from the band’s fifth album “Amid The Noise and Haste” (ATO Records), the second best selling reggae album of 2014, according to Nielsen Soundscan.
Produced by Jamaica-born, Miami-based Supa Dups (Dwayne Chin-Quee) whose credits include Rihanna, Bruno Mars and season 5 winner of NBC’s The Voice Tessanne Chin, “Amid The Noise and Haste” has earned SOJA their first Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album.
Addressing environmental degradation (“Tear It Down”), the neglect experienced by U.S. soldiers returning home from war (“Promises and Pills”) and the ignorance of prejudice (“Translation of One”) as effectively as it does personal reflection (“Lucid Dreams”) and lost love (“Wait”), “Amid The Noise and Haste” is also the finest studio representation of the multi-layered sonic exuberance that characterizes SOJA’s live shows and has established them among contemporary reggae’s most in-demand touring outfits.
Guest artists include Damian Marley, Collie Buddz and Hawaii’s J. Boog and Anuhea but the album’s most striking element is the skillfully meshed harmonies between Hemphill and SOJA’s newest member Trevor Young as heard in their performance of the track “Shadow” recorded in 2014 at WFUV FM studios in New York City.
Honored with the Bob Marley Entertainer of the Year Award at the 33rd Annual International Reggae and World Music Awards (IRAWMA), held in Fort Lauderdale in October 2014, SOJA, has sold an estimated 200,000 albums worldwide, generated almost 4 million Facebook fans, upwards of 80 million YouTube views and has headlined concerts in more than 20 countries, according to their press materials.
A portion of SOJA’s loyal, global spanning fan base will likely make their way to Jamaica for Jazz and Blues to experience what will assuredly be an impassioned presentation by the band – on the island that made it all possible. “Reggae is what we listen to, it’s what we believe in, it’s what we love,” Hemphill offered, “and Jamaica taught us everything.”