SOJA - Soldiers Of Jah Army
Rootsreggae aus dem Herzen Babylons

Von der amerikanischen Szene bekommt man hierzulande leider viel zu wenig mit, vor allem von der aktuellen Rootsszene und ihren Nachwuchsbands. Soliders Of Jah Army - kurz SOJA. - gehören dazu und legen mit ihrem aktuellen Album "Peace In A Time Of War" ein solides Machwerk vor. Besonders sticht dabei der Titel "Rasta Courage" hervor und schleicht sich sanft aber nachhaltig in die Gehörgänge. Tief verwurzelt im Rootsreggae und mit hier ansässigen Bands wie Headcornerstone und den Movements vergleichbar, überzeugen sowohl ihre Texte als auch die Kompositionen. Aufgenommen und gemixt wurde das Album bei keinem Geringeren als Jim Fox, der ja schon für andere amerikanische Projekte so etwas wie ein spiritueller Vater war. Zuletzt habe ich von ihm als Mixer bei dem hervorragenden Album "Hebron Gate" von Groundation gelesen. Mit dieser Band verbinden S.O.J.A. die gleichen spirituellen Inhalte. Allerdings verzichten sie im Unterschied zu Groundation bei ihrem Album auf die Unterstützung von namhaften Reggae-Veteranen und ziehen es alleine durch. Interessant ist dabei das Konzept als Band, dass sich mittlerweile weltweit wieder zu etablieren scheint. S.O.J.A. gehören zu den vielversprechenden Bands der Jetztzeit. Bislang waren sie in Deutschland noch nicht zu sehen. Zu Hause wurden sie bereits als Opening Act von Culture, Burning Spear, Eek-A-Mouse, The Wailers, Yami Bolo und anderen engagiert.
Die Musiker sind Jacob Hemphill (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Bob Jefferson (Bass, Vocals, Funde Drum), Eric Rodgers (Keyboards, Vocals and more), Ryan Berty (Drums, Thunder Drum) und Ken Brownell (Percussion). Ein klassisches Lineup sozusagen - mehr braucht eigentlich keine Reggaeband.

Das neue Album war Anlass genug, den Jungs einmal ein paar Fragen zu mailen. Hier ihre Antworten.

Soldiers Of Jah Army (SOJA.) have started around 1997 and have recorded a the first album and released it independently. After a Jim Fox produced EP, "Peace In A Time Of War" is the new album released by you. From what I have heard so far, S.O.J.A. seems to be in the rootstradition of artists such as Burning Spear, Culture and even Marley. What makes young people like you turn to reggae music this style in Washington D.C.?
We have been fortunate to have many influences to figure out what kind of music want to create. As Bob Marley, Culture, and Spear, artists like Gondwana, Midnite, Anthony B and Sizzla have been a great inspiration for SOJA. Young people like us are trying to bring back the roots in the music. We want that universal sound.

Judging from the cover of the new CD the poses of the band members on the back cover and the lyrics theband seems to be grounded in the Rastafarian Belief. Do you live the Rastafarian belief?
Yes, we are inspired by the works Rastafari. We want people not to view it as a religion, but a concept, a livity, a way to live your life.

What do you think could be changed by this belief in the world of today?
We think it would change the way the people are governed. Haile Selassie I promotes peace, education, especially the importance of history, true history.

Over here in Germany, Reggae and especially Dancehall-Reggae is becoming bigger an bigger. What is it like in the U.S., or, to make the area a bit smaller, the east coast of the states?
Yes, reggae is definitely growing stronger. Open minded people want to hear conscoius music. Reggae is music with a positive message.

The back cover of your album "Peace In A Time Of War" shows the band in front of a murial "in memory of all killed Sept. 11th 2001". Is it possible to give a short statement about whether this tragic date has changed your personal view on life?
Of course. What happened on 9/11 was a tragic event in history. It made an impact all over the world. It was a sign of the times.

The patriotic attitude that evolved after Sept. 11th within the american people seemed a bit strange from outside of the US. What did it feel like from the inside?
It is ironic that it takes a terrorist atack to make the people of the USA "feel" united. Being in this area after 9/11, many people did put the US flag on thier cars, or in their front yard, on their house.... but at the same time, many people developed stereotypes. That is, we also saw a lot of hatred towards Middle Eastern people, which did not help for a goal of unification. Our governmental policy on war defininetly influenced what other nations thought of the USA. SOJA is for peace.

The U.S. politicians seem to see military intervention as the only solution. What is the difference between these soldiers to the Soldiers Of Jah Army?
We are fighting for an inborn cause. We are not fighting because our government sees that is the only solution. We are fighting with our music, and our message is our weapon.

You're living in the heart of Babylon. Is it difficult for you, since one can tell from the lyrics of S.O.J.A. you seem to be aware and critical!?
For us it is not really difficult. There is a big diversity among the people in the Washingotn DC. There is the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA, politicians... but there is also poverty, crime, racism, and inequality. So seeing all of this, it makes us strive for a place where there is no hatred, or greed, or corrupt government. We must be aware living in this area. Seeing all the bad just makes us want to do good even more.

Sean Paul has topped the charts in the U.S. not too long ago. What is your attitude towards actual, mainly digital Dancehall-Reggae. Will this be a way for S.O.J.A. in the future?
There are many artists out there with positive message. Others just sing about vanity, or girls. We listen to those artists that are spreading good works. It does not matter to us if the music is made from digital, or drum programs... it is the message that the people hear. Still, SOJA always strives for roots in our sound, like the heartbeat.

If you could decide on who to work with in the future, who would it be and why would you pick him or her?
We would love to work with Gondwana on a world tour. We have inspired by their music for a long time. They are from Chile, South America... we are from Washington DC, North America. It would be an honor to show to the world the good reggae that is being made on the american continent.

From your point of view: who is world's greatest reggae-artists - living or dead? And why?
Bob Marley has definitely been one of the world's greatest reggae artist. There are so many more... Peter Tosh, Jacob Miller, Garnett Silk, Culture, Burning Spear, Luciano, etc... Artists like these have changed the way many people view the world. Bob Marley is a prophet... His music continues to unify people all throughout the world. Bob also set the cornerstone for roots reggae, that we try to follow.

Have you ever heard of German Reggaebands?
Honestly, no. But we would love to hear them! Reggae is growing all over the world. It is nice that more and more artists are playing reggae.

If one wants to buy your album outside the U.S.: is your website the only way or will there be international distribution?
As of now, we have no distribution in Europe. We are still searching. Meanwhile though, our cd is now available internationally at Soon, our cd should be in stores in Europe, and all over the world.

Is there any chance of seeing you around live in Europe?
Of course. We know how big reggae is growing in Europe. We can't wait for the time when we have the oppurtunity to play in Europe for all the people.

Interview: Karsten Frehe 07/2003

Fotos: Lindsay LaBella
(Foto oben: rechts unten im Bild - Jim Fox)