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Mace and Crown | May 24, 2018

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SOJA Spreads Love at The NorVa

Maggie Giordano
Contributing Writer

“We’re on the road and now we’re home. That was clever what I said. We’re home baby!” Jacob Hemphill, lead singer of SOJA, shouted into the microphone. His words echoed through the packed crowd that filled The NorVa, all the way up to the VIP balcony.

Kicking off the weekend before spring break, Virginia natives SOJA charmed reggae fans on March 2. The two-time Grammy-nominated band illuminated the crowd with sounds of positivity and love.

The audience was compiled of all ages and there was acceptance of all, a key concept found throughout the band’s music.

Tie-dye, dreadlocks and tattoos could be seen throughout the crowd, along with older couples enjoying a few beers. A strong smell of smoke suffused the venue and reached to the crystal chandelier.

The sold-out concert started with the song “Promises and Pills,” which smoothly flowed to “I Believe,” “Born in Babylon” and “She Still Loves Me.” Fans also heard favorites such as, “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” “Tear it Down,” “Your Song” and more.

Intertwining songs was a common theme for the band that night. The guitars, bass, trumpet, keyboards and drums all eloquently transitioned from song to song, which kept fans jamming without pause.

SOJA, fully named Soldiers of Jah Army, was originally formed by a few friends in Arlington, Virginia during their middle school years. They officially formed with other members in 1997 and released their first studio album, “Creeping In,” in 1998. Since then, they have released various albums and singles, toured in over 20 countries and have accumulated a large social media following.

The band was nominated at the recent 59th Annual Grammy Awards for “Best Reggae Album” for “SOJA: Live in Virginia.” The first official live album was released on Sept. 30, 2016 and was recorded at the band’s “favorite hometown venue,” Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, which is located in Vienna, Virginia.

The band is compiled of eight members, including Jacob Hemphill (lead vocals and guitar), Bobby Jefferson (bass and vocals), Patrick O’Shea (keyboards), Ryan Berty (drums), Ken Browness (percussion), Hellman Escorcia (saxophone), Rafael Rodriguez (trumpet) and Trevor Young (guitar and vocals).

The band walked onto the stage right around 9 p.m. after the audience was warmed up from the opening act, the No BS! Brass Band, from Richmond. The excited crowd cheered and was ready to dance the night away.

The songs’ lyrics have so much meaning and powerful messages that the band members rarely said much, allowing for the songs to speak to the crowd.

The influential music asked people to look inside themselves with lyrics such as, “Everything that you say / Become the things that you do / Remember what you put out there is building you / Remember everything is everything,” from “I Believe.”

There was a real showcase of talent when Hemphill and Young shredded on their guitars to “Not Done Yet,” while Jefferson energetically jumped around stage and played his bass, head-banging his long, blond dreadlocks around and around. Hemphill also later introduced Escorcia to play his soothing saxophone for the excited crowd.

When the audience was urged to put up their “hands in the stand” during “Your Song,” everyone did just that. In exchange for the connection the crowd had with each other that night, the band came out for an encore and everyone went crazy for “Every Thing Changes.”

The audience members were able to leave the venue on a hopeful note when Hemphill said that their new album would be coming out soon.

SOJA is set to kick off their official summer tour with Dirty Heads, The Green, and RDGLDGRN on June 10 in Cocoa, FL.