Concert Review: SOJA

Thousands enjoy the music of SOJA after a day of horse racing.

Thousands enjoy the music of SOJA after a day of horse racing. — Courtesy photo

By: Juan Barragan
Seaside Stage @ Del Mar Fairgrounds
23 August, 2013

What was supposed to be a night of indie rock music turned into something completely different when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs decided to cancel their free show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the Summer Concert Series. In their place, Virginia Reggae band SOJA took the stage to the delight of the reggae-loving crowd that resides in Southern California. The concert was to take place after the last horse race. Hours before, hundreds of people had abandoned the horse race viewing building in order to be as close as possible to the stage. At precisely 7:30 P.M., just as planned, SOJA took the stage and started the first show of their Fall 2013 Tour.

SOJA took to the stage and opened up with “Mentality” off of their newest album, Strength To Survive. They immediately followed with the title track off of the album. SOJA, which is an acronym for Soldiers of Jah Army, always tries to sing about issues that are going on in the world that affect us all. This is why the first two songs were extremely appropriate for the crowd to hear. The second song is about the priorities people have which are sometimes misaligned with the greater good that we could be doing in this world. Lead singer of the band, Jacob Hemphill, sings, “Does the dollar really matter when the whole world is gone?” Clearly, SOJA is well aware of the events happening around the world and the first few songs in their newest album bring attention to the very issues that we many times ignore. In a somewhat ironic turn of events, the band decided to play the song, “To Whom It May Concern,” featuring the bassist, Bob Jefferson, on vocals. What makes this song interesting is the fact that in one of the verses, it calls out the government on spying on its people. The verse says, “Deception of those who sit up on their thrones in their high place of power / They say they’re friends of me /some imply family when we call them big brother / They tell us we’re free but they’re spying on me every minute on the hour / Their satellites fly as their eye in the sky ’cause they’re all ******* cowards.” The EP in which that song came out was released in 2008, which leads the listener to wonder if the band members knew that only a few years later, the American government would be featured in an international spying scandal.

SOJA did not only focus their set on thought provoking world issues. They gave the crowd some mellow love songs to enjoy as well. The song that must have given the crowd chills was “Be With Me Now.” Not only does this song have a set of well written verses, but also features a very captivating horn section at the end of the song. Prior to this horn section, Hemphill confessed that he had just had surgery a couple of days prior to the show that night. Although he called it, “routine maintenance,” and considered it, “nothing to worry about,” the crowd gave him the support he needed through very loud cheers of encouragement. Shortly after, the horn section arrived, with Hellman Escorcia on the saxophone and Rafael Rodriguez on trumpet. Another song that sparked the crowd’s enthusiasm was their live rendition of “Not Done Yet.” The audience made sure to loudly sing the song’s every lyric.

Near the end of their set, the band decided to show off their newly acquired skills that they picked up while on tour in Brazil. Armed with percussion instruments of all sorts, almost all of SOJA’s members played a very well performed samba song. Jacob Hemphill followed the samba song with an acoustic rendition of “Everything Changes,” which speaks about our society’s addiction to consumerism and disregard for the world, and each other. Shortly after this song, the band left the stage, surely to allow Hemphill’s full recovery from surgery. However, the crowd was eager to hear more. After chanting out, “SOJA! SOJA! SOJA!” for almost ten full minutes, the band came out to play another twenty minutes, completely disregarding the 9:30 P.M. curfew that had been placed on them. The crowd did not seem to mind, and sang along to the band’s final songs for the evening, which included one of their most famous songs, “What I Am.”

SOJA announced during this show that they were just about done with writing the new album and that after their fall tour they were going to take over the world. If you are interested in being part of this legacy and wish to listen to some of SOJA’s music, their newest album is a good place to start, since it features both the love songs everyone enjoys, and some thought provoking songs regarding social justice.