Sunfest 33: SOJA

SOJA Sax and Frontman
SOJA sax player Hellman Escorcia, with frontman Jacob Hemphill in the background

Soldiers Of Jah Army, an eight-piece reggae band from the D.C. area, took to the SunFest main stage mid-afternoon of Day 4 of the festival, just as it did three years earlier when promoting Strength To Survive, its first release on Dave Matthew’s ATO label. Now the group is promoting its latest ATO release, Amid The Noise and Haste, which was nominated for the Reggae Grammy in February.

Jacob Hemphill without sunglasses

Despite the bright South Florida sunshine, frontman Jacob Hemphill took off his sunglasses from time to time as he sang and played guitar. Most of the lead vocals were handled by Hemphill, but blond-dreadlocked bassist Bobby Lee provided his deep-voiced delivery to the deejay break for the song “You Don’t Know Me”, from the 2006 album Get Wiser.

SOJA Bassist Bobby Lee
SOJA Bassist Bobby Lee

In addition to executing his signature high-kick during the show, he and other band-members made good use of the catwalk that jutted into the audience. At one point, Hemphill was joined on the catwalk by trumpeter Rafael Rodriguez and saxophonist Hellman Escorcia, and lead guitarist Trevor Young also used it as a launching point for a dive into the crowd. Throughout the show, explosive conga beats were provided by percussionist Kenny Bongos.

SOJA percussionist Kenny Bongos
Kenny Bongos [Photo by Empress K of Reggae Reflection]

SOJA Guitarist Trevor Young
Guitarist Trevor Young

The group played tracks from its five-album catalogue, including “Mentality” from Strength To Survive, and from its latest release, the track “I Believe”, recorded with Michael Franti and Nahko, “She Still Loves Me” (recorded with Collie Budz), and “Shadow”, with lead vocal by Trevor. In the three years since the group’s previous appearance at SunFest, its following has grown exponentially, as evidenced by the large crowd that braved the heat to watch the band. But while this performance was good, I couldn’t help but feel that the group’s 2012 SunFest show was more engaging, and Empress K of Reggae Reflection preferred the band’s performance at the Nine Mile festival in Miami in February. But we were probably in the minority in thinking that, and I imagine this won’t be the last SunFest will see of SOJA.

SOJA bassist & guitarist16400011

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