CD Review: 'Born in Babylon' by SOJA

Friday, August 21, 2009


"Born in Babylon"

Kindred spirits: UB40, Dave Matthews Band, Culture

Show: Saturday and Sunday at the State Theatre. Saturday show starts at 9 p.m.; Sunday at 7:30 p.m. 703-237-0300.

SOJA has a different vantage point than the Rastafarians who labeled the industrialized world "Babylon." This reggae quintet hails from Northern Virginia.

Despite living near the Beltway, the band endorses the Rasta worldview. As frontman Jacob Hemphill sings in the title tune of the group's latest effort, "Born in Babylon," "Born in Babylon but . . . just got to be free."

The struggle of living in Babylon is not apparent in SOJA's laid-back music. The group boasts an easygoing vibe and a springy reggae groove. Many songs are propelled by jaunty horns, which are more reminiscent of ska than of reggae and occasionally add a Latin flavor. Rappers interject remarks, hard-rock guitar solos punctuate "Never Ever" and "Used to Matter," and a violin proclaims SOJA's affinity for the Dave Matthews Band, notably on "You and Me" and the bluesy "Thunderstorms."

SOJA is short for Soldiers of Jah Army, and "I Don't Wanna Wait" does take a warlike stance. But the song's message is ultimately one of personal responsibility ("Wrong is easy/ Right is hard"), and the battles recounted in other tunes are romantic rather political. As for the title track, it turns out to be an attack on "critics"; not everyone is corrupted by life in Babylon, but some professions just can't redeemed.

-- Mark Jenkins

© 2009 The Washington Post Company