Warming Reggae on a Cold Night
By Vee Manzerolle
Fans walked through the tangled hallways of the Phoenix longing for the main concert hall. Initially only hearing the faintest sound of reggae that was increasingly getting louder the closer they got. When they finally immersed themselves into the scene reggae music was blaring from the above speakers. The room was entirely lit with an enormous disco ball sitting dead centre above the core of the dance floor.
Reggae music often holds claim to a diverse audience. It characteristically surpasses race, religion, culture, and location. The SOJA and Matisyahu show is no exception to this rule. The fan base was the most diverse fan base I have ever played witness too. The venue was filled with a population made up of people of all ages - this statement is not an over-exaggeration. Fans ranged from minors to middle-agers (not too mention those who fall in between). For some, it was a family event; pregnant women could even be found among the crowd. Others were decked out in toques sporting the Jamaican colours and of course dreads made an appearance as well.
SOJA consists of five members that have been a musical team since childhood. Lead singer Jacob Hemphill (vocals, guitar) and Bob Jefferson (bass), Patrick O’Shea (keyboards), Ryan Berty (drums), and Ken Brownell (percussion). Opening with the track “I Dont Wanna Wait” the crowd couldn’t help but feel the instant sensation of being completely relaxed. SOJA’s reggae sound inflicts the impression of not having a care in the world. Listeners have and will get lost in their grooving sounds; even the bass player (Bob Jefferson) was taken away by their grooving sounds.
Every person and instrument gave SOJA a unique live sound. From the band's four-piece bongo set to their horn section (made up of a saxophone and a trumpet) to even the keyboard, each instrument made for an interesting arrangement. Jacob Hemphill’s vocals seemed almost effortless whereas Bob Jefferson’s vocals were shockingly deep where it was almost unfathomable that this deep powerful voice belonged to him.
Aside from the music, what was really impressive was their attitude towards their merchandise. Lead singer Jacob Hemphill announced a pay-what-you-can system for their new album, Born in Babylon. Until recently, this technique is almost unheard of (this is especially true during a live context). Hemphill just wanted people to take the album home if they liked what they heard. Whatever they thought the album was worth they should pay, regardless if it was as low as $3 or as high as $15.
Coming to a close, SOJA’s last song was full of intense energy. The stage was lit with red and yellow lights creating a complimentary mood to the music. The smell of weed filled the air. A bongo solo began to commence on the left side of the stage while remaining members stood off to the right. A brass build-up soon followed ending in loud cheers with people in the crowd with their hands up.
After playing witness to one of their live shows, it goes without saying that SOJA undoubtedly knows how to warm-up an audience. This crowd was far from being shy or uncomfortable when it came to busting a move surrounded by strangers. The only real criticism that can be said about their performance is that it was too much of a tease. Taking the stage at 8:00 and wrapping up around 8:30 left fans with an undeniable craving for more SOJA. This was SOJA’s first time in Toronto and it will hopefully not be their last.