SOJA has emerged as a superstar act within the proliferating American reggae scene. – BILLBOARD
In time for Bluesfest, SOJA will be releasing their fifth studio album featuring the single I Believe, co-written by and featuring Michael Franti. Over the course of the past few years, the band has sold more than 200,000 albums, including their critically acclaimed 2012 album, Strength To Survive (ATO Records), which made an impassioned call for unity and change with universally relatable songs about faith, hope and love.
Non-stop touring, headlining and selling out large theatres in more than 20 countries around the world, sharing stages with everyone from Dave Matthews Band to Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley, has helped generate more than 60 million YouTube views, three million Facebook fans, and an almost Grateful Dead-like international fanbase that grows with each tour, with caravans of diehards following them from city to city.
Most impressive of all, SOJA has accomplished all this on their own.
Most recently SOJA have joined Michael Franti on the Soulshine tour – a gathering of like-minded musicians who share a belief in love, peace and conscious lyrics.
SOJA frontman Jacob Hemphill has embraced the experience head on. ‘It’s really cool and it was my first chance ever doing yoga – it was nuts. Mike gets up in the morning and he does his exercise, and he plays for an hour or two while hundreds or thousands do yoga with him and some famous yoga teacher, and then they do band yoga!’
Hemphill believes the yoga is key on the Soulshine tour as it puts the artists and audience in the same groove.
‘Exercise is an interesting thing; the Japanese car companies do their same exercise together – in the parking lot before work. I never understood why before, when everyone does the exact same hour of exercise together with everyone around them it means everyone is now in sync, 50 people walking around and 25 in the same step together; they are energetic and awake!’
The Soulshine tour will be touching down at Bluesfest; it’s something Hemphill is proud of.
‘It’s great being part of Soulshine – being with so many like-minded musicians. We planted trees to carbon offset the two tour buses through Canada; we had no plastic on the tour. It was cool being around musicians who gave a shit, not those that make all their shirts in China!’
‘The population record labels sell to don’t give a shit; the population that I sell to and they do give a shit.You can’t lie to a bunch of thinkers!’
Being conscious means having to take a profit cut.
‘T-shirts are a big deal,’ says Hemphill. ‘If they are selling $100k worth of t-shirts a year and they cost you $3, you make $70k but if the T-shirts cost you $7 you are volunteering to cut your pay cheque in half. When you are committed to carbon offset, then you have to plant trees and they are not cheap. But it does pay off because I have so many people who follow what I do, and it spreads to 400,000 other people; they say that’s how they are living, and maybe they go plant trees…’
Hemphill believes the human race has fallen out of step with its true and better nature.
‘We have all been lied to. Society used to teach us to protect our elders and our young. We should make music and enjoy the seasons changing around us. Today society teaches us to not co-operate with anyone, compete, be the smartest, prettiest one and don’t share; keep it for yourself. We can’t really be happy unless every single one of us is worth millions of dollars, and that means you need boats and chicks and piles of cocaine – that’s how you get happy now: you let corporations run the countries and you are a machine – then reggae comes in! Reggae is growing quickly, because no-one is happy!
‘We can’t figure out how to get together; we ask questions such as “how do I change?”
“We are dead – we are just waiting for it to happen, we die and we wait it out – we have definitely lost our way.
When I was a kid I heard all you need is love; that sounded childish to me and I wanted to be what I wanted to be. I didn’t get it then; now I realise those words are so true.
You have to be in love with being here, you have to love the breath you are taking, the steps you are taking; you have to love all the people, the smartest, the dumbest, and when you love all of them it rubs off on all around you. When you are horrible, you just make everyone awful; no-one teaches that in school!’
‘If you want to know what a society values most look at the tallest buildings – they used to be churches, now they are towers built for commerce. Money is more important than everything in our world. It’s not just ruining it for us; we are ruining the planet for the future. All the real things that will make you feel something in life are still risks and chances. Money doesn’t solidify anything real in your life. It seems unreal that we are trading things for something so unstable.’
A recent trip to Denmark showed Hemphill that there are governments and people capable of doing things better.
‘Those people have all the money in the world but they have one car… they like to drive together. I guess that is why people look so happy there. They believe in society and they believe in helping a guy find his place in the world. That is the way we are supposed to live.
‘My dad always told me not to worry who is about you or above you; if you look up you will be envious, if you look down you will be vain. Look around and be the change you want to be and celebrate it.’
The inspiration of SOJA hits Bluesfest Easter 2015 as part of the Soulshine tour.