Maggie Giordano | Contributing Writer
Originally published March 2017
“We’re on the road and now we’re home. That was clever what I said. We’re home baby!” lead singer, Jacob Hemphill, shouted into the microphone that echoed through the packed crowd that filled all the way up to the VIP balcony.
Kicking off the weekend before spring break, Virginia-native band, SOJA, charmed reggae fans at The NorVA 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, which is one of the band’s key concepts throughout all of their songs.
Tie-dye, dread locks and tattoos could be seen throughout the crowd along with older couples enjoying a few beers. A strong smell of smoke suffused the venue, reaching 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. It kept fans jamming the whole time during the concert without pause.
SOJA, fully named Soldiers of Jah Army, was originally formed in middle school by a group of a few friends in Arlington, Va. 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 located in Vienna, Va.
The band is compiled of eight members, including Jacob Hemphill (lead vocals and guitar), Bob Jefferson (bass and vocals), Patrick O’Shea (keyboard), Ryan Berty (drums), Ken Brownell (percussion), Hellman Escorcia (saxophone), Rafael Rodriguez (trumpet) and Trevor Young (guitar and vocals).
The band walked onto the stage right around nine p.m. after the audience was warmed up from the opening band that was from Richmond, the No BS! Brass Band. The excited crowd was cheering and ready to dance the night away.
Lyrics from their songs have so much meaning and powerful messages, that the band members rarely said much apart from song lyrics in order 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 the song, "I Believe."
There was a real showcase of talent when Hemphill and Young shredded on their guitars to the "Not Done Yet," while Jefferson energetically jumped around stage playing his bass and 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 crowd was urged to put up their “hands in the stand” during "Your Song," every one did just that. In exchange for the connection the crowd had with each other that night, the band came out for an encore and the crowd went crazy for the song, "Every Thing Changes."
The audience members were able to leave on a hopeful note when Hemphill said 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.