‘Strength’ to Thrive

February 27, 2012

White reggae groups and black rock bands have something in common: Critics are usually describing their members’ skin color before addressing their music. It will be this way until, as the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie told the United Nations in 1963, “the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.” But since the post-racial society is a dream, SOJA’s most obvious characteristic is still its melanin deficiencies.

The veteran Arlington ensemble mostly manages to mute the issue by writing tunes that don’t sound like pasty jam-band approximations of reggae. And though SOJA’s new album, “Strength to Survive,” is on Dave Matthews’ ATO label and the group does receive a ton of support from patchouli-bathers, its songs sound plucked from the politically conscious 1970s roots-reggae scene. Singer Jacob Hemphill, center, has a boatload of charisma, too, which helps win over audiences regardless of race. Now, if society would just let him.

9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; May 18 & 19, 8 p.m., $22.50; 202-265-0930. (U Street)
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