I never explicitly asked Jacob Hemphill to define reggae music during our short phone conversation last month, but once we got to talking about how calming rhythms can open clenched minds, a pretty good definition materialized.
"We all love a motivational speaker," said the SOJA vocalist and bandleader. "But if you can put it to a beat, into a package that feels good to the soul, and then say something important? That's reggae."
SOJA's eighth studio album, "Poetry in Motion," feels like a continuation of the Northern Virginia reggae troupe's long-standing mission, but Hemphill says his lyrics have changed trajectory ever so slightly. "Politics has always been a big focus for us, at least for me in my writing," he said. "And now it's not. Because it's easy to be political now. You have this president that everyone hates, and it's easy to be like, 'I told you so.' "
Instead, Hemphill says he and his bandmates are trying to pose a broader question — "Can a society work together?" — and in concert, they're trying to lead by example. The band took an all-hands-on-deck approach to writing and recording "Poetry in Motion," and Hemphill says the band is eager to translate that highly collaborative spirit to the stage.
"The contributions are from the same eight people," he says of the recording process. "And they were doing it in front of each other's faces. . . . So there's an accountability [to performing it live], and you're proud of it when you play it."
Show: Dec. 29 at 8 p.m. at the Anthem. theanthemdc.com. $40-60.