Rasta Warriors SOJA Battle Pop Music
- By Hannah Epstein
- Published on May 24, 2012
At every music festival, there’s at least one reggae act that allows fans of all ages and walks of life to dance, sing and groove with the island jams.
What sets Washington D.C. based SOJA – apart from your average Rastafarians is their unique approach to songwriting and performance.
[FIND news, tour dates and downloads on SOJA's official website.]
Beyond simply performing the freeing style of music, the band sees themselves as storytellers, weaving together influences as varied as folk and go-go. Touring in support of their fourth album, “Strength to Survive,” SOJA is stopping at some of the world’s biggest music festivals to unite audiences with their politically charged, grooving tunes.
Headstash Magazine spoke to lead singer and guitarist Jacob Hemphill about their D.C. roots, their political motivations and how they view reggae in the contemporary musical culture.
Headstash Magazine: How did growing up in a D.C. suburb influence your decision to become a reggae band?
Jacob Hemphill: I guess having politics in our faces all the time [had an effect on us.] I’ve been feeling that since we’re so close, we can make a change. D.C. is pretty political so we wanted to be a part of it.
HM: Can you talk about your decision to play a Chuck Brown set at the 9:30 Cub show in D.C. this past weekend?
JH: Chuck Brown has always been a huge part of our music and go-go in general. Chuck’s kind of the main creator of go-go.
In D.C., kids play buckets outside of metro stations. It’s been like that forever and Chuck kind of bottled it and sold it. More than that, he was the nicest guy ever and really believed not just in go-go music, but in all music.
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We were getting ready to do our MCA (Adam Yauch) tribute, and then two days before the show, Chuck passed. He wanted to be at the show performing with SOJA, which we’d done before.
We had this whole intro worked out for both 9:30 Club shows, but we basically threw the whole thing in the trash. We had to honor the Godfather. He helped us become who we are.
HM: I have heard you compare yourselves to a folk band. Can you talk a little about that?
JH: Folk musicians tell stories. For a lot of people, folk means an acoustic guitar and someone who is a better songwriter than a singer. That’s often true, and there are some great bands that fit that description and great songwriters that fit that description.
To me, basically what folk stands for is oral tradition. Songs came before writing for all we know. That’s what we try to be.
HM: What do you see as the role of reggae music today in progressive politics?
JH: You never really know. Everyone treats reggae differently. Some people think that it’s music to listen to on the beach. It could be anything, but in most areas of the world, reggae is taken very seriously and it’s seen as a way people can express their outrage or their concern or their worries about a crisis.
We take it like the latter. We think reggae is the perfect music. You turn on the radio today and it is garbage. I don’t know a single person who listens to the radio or who watches MTV or VH1. It’s a great time for reggae because music today is for little kids and reggae is something that is for everyone. It’s what we love.
HM: What you are looking forward to most about touring this summer?
JH: We’ve haven’t played a lot of music festivals that we’re doing this summer. We are going to do three shows at Bonnaroo. We’re doing some at Wakarusa. We’re doing a bunch of festivals in California and in Europe and South America, so we have some really fun stuff coming up.
SOJA’s next show is at Friday, May 25 in Inglewood, California at the Hollywood Park Race Track. For a full list of festival appearances and tour dates, check out their official website.