Singing the World's Conditions

SOJA's old and new tunes offer social commentary


The heavy hitting sounds of SOJA came through to a massive crowd at Mavericks as The Movement and John Brown’s Body opened.

The Movement has gone through some member changes over the last year and a half as their lead singer removed himself from the group. However, the group still put on a great opening act.

John Brown’s Body kept the crowd dancing as their reggae/jam band influence laid the way for SOJA.

“Give it up for The Movement and John Brown’s Body,” Hemphill said. “We've been touring with these guys for like 5 or 10 years.”

SOJA came on with their horn section blasting to “Mentality,” a song that is meant to open up people’s thoughts to the world around them.

“We were the students but now we’re the ones who teach, we were the children who your lies we did believe. But we ain’t kids no more and we don’t need your speech,” lead singer Jacob Hemphill sang.

Following the first track off of their latest album “Strength to Survive,” SOJA went back to their hit single “I Don’t Wanna Wait” off of their 2009 album “Born in Babylon.”

The song expressing their views for better change in the country around them had the crowd’s hands going up and down with the beat.

“Moving forward to right now, a government that let you down, a racist leader no one trusts and an army that’s bigger than us,” Hemphill sang.

After playing “Decide You're Gone” the band followed with their acoustic track “She Still Loves Me,” however it was done in a much more upbeat tempo and the group did not hold back its enthusiasm.

Though experiencing technical difficulties during the first few songs, including mic feedback and guitar sound, the group continued on with the show.

The powerful album title song, “Strength To Survive,” drew multiple cheers as the band sang of the world’s condition.

Bobby Lee, bassist and vocals, dropped his sunglasses down for the song he originally wrote in the early 2000s titled “Be Aware.”

“Be aware, and your mind must be clear under any circumstance Jah message you have to hear, so in the face of evil I-and-I have no fear,” Lee sang in his infamous deep tone.

A new fan favorite, “Not Done Yet” was next as Hemphill drifted into new lyrics for the song in the second verse, something he did throughout the night.

“You and Me,” featuring Chris Boomer, was played as lead guitarist Trevor Young sang Boomer’s part with an echoing voice.

The song also included a bass solo from Lee who danced his way to each side of the stage before the horn section, which includes Hellman Escorcia on saxophone and Rafael Rodriguez on trumpet, had their solo.

“Big ups Jacksonville,” Hemphill said as the song came to a close.

Bobby Lee’s second original song, “To Whom It May Concern,” included a jam session toward the middle of the song in which Rodriguez played a conch shell along with the heavy bass and Kenny “Bongos” Brownell played a solo.

“When We Were Younger,” one of Hemphill’s more lyrically driven songs, makes you ask questions about different aspects of life. He threw in a line as a shout out for the Jacksonville crowd.

“I wonder why I write all these songs, I wonder if you know what you’re saying when Jax sings along.”

After ending, Hemphill introduced “Open My Eyes.”

“This is a song we wrote about twelve years ago, but it still has meaning today,” Hemphill said. “Life is about a journey, not the destination.”

A classic hit “Don’t Know Me” came on as Patrick O’Shea played the catchy opening piano riff. The song went into another jam session as the conch shell reappeared.

The entire band, excluding Hemphill, got on a drum as four bass drums and two snare drums took center stage for a drum line breakdown that had the crowd moving.

Following the drum line was “Let You Go.”

“But Jacksonville, I didn't mean to let you go, should have been the first one to let you know,” Hemphill sang.

An old classic, “Sorry,” erupted into another jam session, something that seemed to be the theme for the group even as they battled technical issues throughout the night.

Shouts for an encore followed immediately as the band made their way off stage.

“SOJA, SOJA,” the crowd chanted.

With a large majority of people still there cheering, the band came back on stage with “Tell Me.”

“Come on Jax, won’t you sing along and say tell me, tell me, tell me anything and I will believe you,” Hemphill sang.

The song led directly into another fan favorite “Here I Am,” which had the crowd singing the chorus all at once.

During one last jam session, Hemphill introduced the band members one at a time as they each took their last solo of the night, starting with percussion.

“Holy **** Jacksonville, we have a hell of a percussion. Give it up for Kenny Bongos,” Hemphill said as the crowd cheered.

Sax and trumpet got their respective solos as lead guitarist Young led into the drum solo from Ryan Berty. Bobby Lee played the final solo of the night as he let his dreads loose.

“On the bass, if you didn't already know,” Hemphill said. “Give it up for Bobby Lee!”

With a set list that brought about all aspects of SOJA, the crowd was moving from beginning to end.

“Thanks for hearing the sounds of SOJA Jacksonville,” Hemphill said, flashing a peace sign as the band made their way off stage.

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