SOJA, Strength to Survive
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Cause For Change
Written by Jeremy Weeden
Soldiers of Jah Army (SOJA), a roots reggae band, returns to the music scene with their fourth full-length studio album, Strength to Survive. While not widely known outside of their genre, the band’s latest album, released on Dave Matthews’ ATO label, may change that. The album is produced by John Alagia (producer for Dave Matthews, Lifehouse, Jason Mraz and many others) and has enough of a pop feel that the band may garner widespread recognition and radio play. Regardless, SOJA is a band with a socially-conscious message about the state of affairs in the world. This message within their songs, combined with infectious rhythms and lyrics, should send SOJA to greater heights in 2012.
The band’s founder and lead vocalist Jacob Hemphill has said the album Strength to Survive was strongly influenced by the album Survival by Bob Marley & The Wailers. This is evident in the first song you hear, “Mentality,” which has strong blaring horns and an upbeat, traditional reggae rift. Jacob sings crisp, clear lyrics for the new generation like, “We were the students, but now we’re the ones who teach/We were the children told the lies that we believed.” This is just the beginning of an album full of passionate, well-crafted reggae songs. Jacob Hemphill is a talented songwriter with the ability to make even the casual listener think about their actions with his songs about faith and idealism. In a world controlled by the almighty dollar, SOJA asks that we stop and think about what our behavior is doing to the earth and world around us.
The next track on the album is the uplifting title track “Strength to Survive.” This song has gotten some recognition, as the video, with its giant wooden man, is in rotation on both VH1 and MTV (on the rare occasions the latter actually shows music videos). The song has a slow reggae riddim as the band asks who has the strength to survive when one is caught in the revolving door of life and has to leave some things behind to move on.
The next song, “Don’t Worry,” is one of the only tracks that really shows the Dave Matthews/John Alagia influence. This song has more of a pop feel than a reggae feel, despite the typical reggae guitar riff over the chorus. “Don’t Worry” comes off as one of those songs that is on an album only because the record label insisted. However, as that song says, don’t worry, the majority of the album is true grassroots reggae.
“It’s Not Too Late” is a standout track on the album that truly draws on Jacob’s Bob Marley influences. He may not sound exactly like Bob but he definitely could pass for one of his many musical sons on this track. The song’s message also speaks to the responsibilities all humans share in making our world a better place. Another excellent track on the album is the beautiful ballad “Slow Down,” which finds Jacob singing easily relatable lyrics like,
“You can trust another like no other/ Watch them fall and then you fall apart/It tears you apart /Always see myself alone but in my darkest hours there you are.” This is a slow reggae song with a hypnotizing rhythm that will cover you like a warm blanket. You can almost feel the warm breeze of the Caribbean and see the palm trees swaying as the music plays.
Hemphill has stated that he could go on and on about the damage we have done to the Earth or the problems that arise when countries compete for money or fight over an imaginary border, but Strength to Survive has one central theme, and that is the band’s hope for the world to be one family. This notion is felt throughout the album. Whether the song is a moving love song such as “Let You Go” or the traditional reggae sounds of “Gone Today,” with Strength to Survive, SOJA is making an impassioned call for unity and change with songs about faith, hope and love.
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