Soja, a massive American reggae band, is touring Europe at the moment. We had a few words with the singer/songwriter, Jacob Hemphill.
Yesterday you performed at O2 Academy Islington in a sold out event. How was it?
It was really good, we haven’t play London very much in our careers, this is one of the few times we’ve played here. Especially playing here by ourselves, not opening for anyone, but just being the only band there and see the place completely sold out, and everybody knowing the words. It was great because we love London and we want reasons to be able to come back, so now we have a good reason.
Did you find any differences between the reggae culture in the UK and USA?
I don’t really know too much about the UK reggae scene, I think the UK scene it’s a little statelier, a little more connected over the years with the music from Jamaica, specially. From even when Bob Marley was alive, the UK has followed, when America didn’t really follow. In America is much more of a contra culture. America has a lot of their own things going on, hip-hop, rnb, rock, country… these things take the main focus. So it’s cool to be here where reggae is in the spotlight. In America reggae was up and then it was down and now is on the way back up again.
You already started a European tour that will take you to about 12 cities.Is there any city in particular that you are excited or curious to perform in?
Some of the German cities we’ve never play in, so we’re not too sure. We have two sold out shows in Portugal coming up tomorrow and then there are two sold out shows in Spain. We actually had to move the venues to bigger venues all over the tour. It seems there is a lot of momentum right now for the music, especially with the election that just happened in America: Marihuana getting legalized in two states and gay marriage being completely legalized in three. And it’s funny, as an American you don’t really understand all of your country until you go outside of it and you look inside from a third person perspective. I’m over here in London and I’m seeing the reactions that people are having to this election, it has nothing to do with them but at the same time has everything to do with them, because what happens in America is very important for the rest of the world. And to see how much everybody loves this guy Barack, makes us feel really good and also seeing that people actually like us for a change, because normally everybody seems to be the opposite way.
Do you think the economic crisis that we are living now is making people feel more identified with reggae music?
Yeah. Basically the more sensitive a situation is somewhere, the more reggae fits into that culture, so maybe that’s why in America it’s never been that popular, because we are very comfortable, we don’t need somebody fighting for our rights because we feel like we are represented, at least in the past, I guess. But it’s getting worse and worse and worse, maybe that’s why it’s getting popular in America right now, because people are rising up. We were in Brazil one time, and I was watching the MTV and below the MTV logo it said “Fora Bush” which means “Get out, Bush”. Places where there is a lot of uprising, reggae music fits in. Times when there is a lot up uprising, reggae music fits in.
You released your fourth album “Strength to Survive" last January. Why did you choose this title for the album?
Because the earth is dying, and it gets hotter every year, and it’s three degrees Celsius hotter in the north pole, and one degree Celsius hotter where people live than it was in 1996, when they had one of the Geneva conventions. The idea behind the album is that we are not going to survive at the pace that we’re going right now; we are headed for total destruction. On the album, I look for possible solutions, and where I kind of settled on, it’s a man can’t separate itself into nations, into religions and all these different groups, and that’s not the way to maintain our society, that way creates competition over conflict level. Forcing the third world to try to catch up to us, and how are they going to catch up to us, well, internal commercial engines. A lot of third world countries have a lot of oil under the ground, so they have one way to catch up to the first world as we compete for consumption. That’s to make fire around this engines and making the earth hotter, bringing on and pending destruction. So the idea behind Strength to survive is that, if we continue functioning as nations that compete against one another, even though we think this human race is getting us somewhere in the end, it will kill us all. And, do we have the strength to survive, the strength to realize what are we doing to ourselves?
Do you thing music is a good tool for changing the world?
What a government is supposed to be, is someone who everyone listens to, and everyone respects their opinion. People say “you should make the decisions for us, and we are going to vote on the decisions that you make”. That’s what a band is. I make songs, I say the direction that I think I want to go, and the more people follow this band, the more the leadership grows. Even though I’m kind of excited about what happened today with the elections, the congress it’s still over the next four years, and it’s going to limit everything that Barack Obama does, because he is a democrat or for whatever reason, because the congressman in USA don’t have to report any money that they get, so they can be bought by drugs companies, gun companies and oil companies. That’s what America makes the money on. So my government obviously doesn’t work. And I think music gives people a chance to vote the guy that they really like. And the guy has a microphone, just like the president has a microphone. We don’t have to answer the Congress; we can say whatever we want.
Do you have any song which you consider your own Anthem?
My favorite song it’s always the last song I wrote, so in this album it would be the song called ‘Be with me now’. But the Anthem of the album is the title track ‘Strength to survive’, which is the biosphere, the earth, and also would be ‘Everything Changes’ which is about the humans that live on it.
Why did you decide to name your band Soja? Cause in Spanish means soy…
Soja it’s an acronym for the name the band used to be called, but Soja for us was a word that didn’t exist, and it kind of represented us. But we like the fact that it means ‘soy beans’ in every country in the world, except for mine. So when people write us on Facebook they say “what’s up soy beans?” Cause they use Google translator.
On your Facebook page you have a quote which I guess represent your way of thinking which says "Maybe we need to look at this world less like a square and more like a circle." Taken from your song ‘Everything Changes’. Why did you choose that quote?
Because a square doesn’t exist in nature, a square is something that a man makes, God doesn’t paint straight lines. I’m not saying you have to believe in God, but looking Mother Nature, there are no straight lines, but circles are everywhere: it’s in your eyes, it’s in the sun, it’s in the moon… the earth is a circle. So I was thinking about the world in a man maid way, as a square, and destroying it, and destroying the people, And if you think of it as a circle, you think it in the way it actually is, the way that it can live forever.
Who is the romantic one? I really love the lyrics of the songs, there is one in particular that I really like, called “Let you go”.
I wrote all the songs of the album, but the love songs are like when someone writes a story, like a book, I don’t think they are necessarily writing their own story, maybe they’re taking pieces of many different stories. Then they put it all in something that has an introduction, a problem, a climax and a solution. That’s probably what a good love song should be.
Some songs in the album are about hope and faith. What do you have faith in?
I don’t know, I want to have faith in the human race, and in good over evil, and I want to have faith in the future. We will see how it plays out in the course of our lives, and see how much it actually happens. I’m not always convinced that there is more good over evil with humans, sometimes, I feel is the other way around, but we will see.
By Laura Vila