Ben Theriault, Staff Writer
The South is not the first place one would expect to find an alternative reggae band, let alone a successful one with a multi-million fan base. The band Soldiers of Jah Army (SOJA) formed in Arlington, VA in 1997. Members include, Jacob Hemphill on lead vocals and guitar, Bobby Lee Jefferson on bass and backing vocals, Patrick O’Shea on keyboard, Ryan “Bird” Berty on drums, Ken Brownell on percussion, Hellman Escorcia on saxophone, Rafael Rodriguez on trumpet and Trevor Young on guitar and backing vocals.
Hemphill and Jefferson met as early as first grade and much of the other members became acquainted through middle and high school. Ever since, they have been touring the world as SOJA. On their current tour, in light of their new album Poetry in Motion, they will be playing in Portland at the State Theater on Friday, March 2.
SOJA’s new 11-track passion project is a tribute to where the band began. While many of their reggae-fusion albums experiment with genres such as punk, latin-rock, ska, and hip-hop, this one is a bit more stripped down; it is less instrumentally and vocally experimental and more lyric oriented. It seeks to emulate its roots and is mostly pure reggae.
The theme of respecting one’s origins was prevalent throughout the production of the album. They frequently referenced their 2009 album, Born in Babylon, as an inspiration for the sound of the album.
“We’re going back to our roots and what we do best,” Hemphill stated. “We’re remembering why we started this band and the magic of what we’ve built. We were lucky enough to create our own family and we picked every brother by hand. This album feels like we’ve had an amazing family reunion. It’s a blueprint for our future.”
Like much of their other work, Poetry in Motion seeks to provoke thought and inquiry within its listeners. Hemphill does this by asking himself, ‘how can I make the human condition into a song?’ He states that he has many questions to speculate on throughout the album, yet wishes to give no answers; that is for the listener to pursue for themselves.
Much of the album pertains to spirituality, such as one’s place in the universe, the idea of a master plan, consequences of betrayal to god, seeking truth and the danger of exclusivity. Many of these large ideas are anchored by the bands devotion to their faith in love and respect.
When not grappling with religious philosophy, they attempt to comment on contemporary politics. In their song “Bad News,” they sing, “I’m guessing tolerance has got the better chance of removing much of the damage before it shows up; We elect our future to be the bad luck; Bad news gets given we throw our hands up; And this country is two pieces and it’s evident; The lowest common denominator is President.”
The song also comments on the arbitrariness of borders and the danger they pose to humanity. Hemphills says that the goal of the band is to “speak for people that don’t have microphones” and that he hopes his music will stand up for the entire human race.
As a counterpart to SOJA this March, the acts Nahko & Medicine for the People and the Late Ones will be opening at the State Theater. Nahko and his five piece band are touring for their debut feature this year, My Name is Bear.
Nahko is an artist from Portland, OR, who is of Apache descent. He uses pop folk as a vessel to express his quest towards self identity and spirituality. Activism is an integral part of his identity and he deeply associates it with his music. He advocates for causes such as InterTribal Youth, Amazon Watch, and Honor the Earth through his activism and art.
Opening for both acts is The Late Ones, a brother duo from Laie, HI. Tui and Tau Avei are reggae artists that pull influences from genres such as jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. They are heavily influenced by Samoan culture, which is reflected within their lyrics and videos. Through their EP, Revelatem, the band advocates a message of communalism and peace.
Tickets for the three acts can be purchased at Port City Music Hall for $28 in advanced and $30 on the day of. Doors for the show at the State Theater open at 6:30 and the show will start at 7:30, March 2.