And the Grammy goes to... Reggae! The SOJA Controversy
04/06/2022 by Gardy Stein
Following the awarding ceremony of the 64th Grammy Awards on Sunday [watch it here], we have witnessed an outpour of disrespect, abuse and hatred towards the winners that is simply shocking. Far from the usual discussions of who would have / could have / should have won, this year saw an unprecedented aggression towards the US-American Reggae band SOJA taking the trophy for 'Best Reggae Album' home. These attacks are not, however, based on an objective assessment of the quality of their winning album "Beauty In The Silence" (in fact, most angry commentators seem to not having listened to even one track of it... talking about #neverheardism) - it all boils down to the color of this group's skin.
Thus, Bounty Killer posted on his Instagram-account "What a big piece a sell out gwaan ya so white folks winning best reggae album over Jamaicans wtf" (and other artists, including Shenseea and Foota Hype, blow in the same horn), but the most extreme comments come from ordinary Jamaicans, expressing accusations of "cultural vultures" and "culture appropriation" (source: USATODAY.com)
In the light of SOJA's decades of hard work to help Reggae music take hold in the US market (they were founded in 1997, playing Reggae ever since) and their acceptance speech [watch it here], this criticism is not justified. They explicitly mention Jamaica, expressing their appreciation and gratitude: "We wanna thank all our influences when we were growing up (...). To the founding fathers of Reggae music in the island of Jamaica, you inspired us all!" In an interview backstage [watch it here], they added: "Representing American Reggae, we shout out to all the pioneers, Jamaican artists and everybody who came before us, the forerunners... Roots Reggae music! Music is a mission, not a competition, that's what Capleton say."
Fellow Grammy nominees Etana and Gramps Morgan as well as Chronixx and many others support SOJA and congratulate them publicly on their win. Reacting to the blatant jibes that filled social media, Chronixx posted on his Instagram channel on Monday (April 5,2022): "Dem man ya been blessing us and sharing their platform for with us for years … consistently. Bring nuff a wi on the road before we got opportunities open for any of the native Jamaican music legends. Wah wrong wid some men?"
One good thing about all this agitation, at least everybody has heard the name SOJA by now, and there might well be a new dictionary entry soon: "NEVERHEARDISM (as in "never heard...!") is a variant of the logical tu quoque fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent's position by using ignorance to devalue the argument without directly refuting or disproving the argument."
To make the ongoing debate accessible to you, we have collected articles and videos (including statements from leading figures of Reggae music) below. Hopefully, the heated discussion will profit from the knowledge, tolerance and solidarity expressed in some of these posts, turning the focus from skin color to the beauty of the music that's created by artists worldwide. As Tanya Stephens says, "Reggae is a genre, not a race or a location. Every year I feel embarrassed for some of us (...) We wah tour everywhere and not inspire ANY of the creatives ANYWHERE! Me very tired."
IN THE PRESS
'JAMAICA, YOU'VE INSPIRED US' – SOJA WINS BEST REGGAE ALBUM GRAMMY [Jamaica Observer - April 3, 2022]
"Virginia-based group SOJA has copped the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album at the 64th ceremony for the coveted music awards. The group took home the award for the album Beauty in the Silence."
SOJA WINS REGGAE GRAMMY [Jamaica Star - April 3, 2022]
"American reggae band SOJA (an acronym for Soldiers in Jah Army) has won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album with Beauty in the Silence."
REGGAE GRAMMY GOES TO SOJA [Jamaica Gleaner - April 3, 2022]
"It is the third time that the eight-piece reggae band, which was established in 1997, has been nominated in the category.
SOJA’s Beauty in the Silence features Rebelution, Dirty Heads, Slightly Stoopid, UB40, Stick Figure, and Collie Buddz."
WHY SOJA WON THE REGGAE GRAMMY AGAINST FIVE JAMAICANS [Dancehallmag.com - April 3, 2022]
"There has been a flurry of accusations aimed at the Recording Academy—including those of bias and race-based favoritism—after American band SOJA upstaged Jamaican artists Spice, Jesse Royal, Sean Paul, Gramps Morgan, and Etana, to win the Best Reggae Album Grammy Award for their album Beauty In The Silence."
10 FACTS ABOUT GRAMMY-WINNING REGGAE BAND SOJA [Jamaica Observer - April 3, 2022]
"The third time was indeed the charm for Virginia-based group SOJA who copped the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album with their project Beauty in the Silence at the 64th annual Grammy Awards in Las Vegas."
SOJA'S GRAMMY WIN SPEAKS TO THE 'UNIVERSALITY' OF REGGAE MUSIC, SAYS GRANGE [Jamaica Observer - April 4, 2022]
In a statement released to the media, the Culture and Entertainment Minister said reggae music has "touched and influenced the lives of people all around the world" and expressed that SOJA's win is proof of the genre's universality".
SOJA’S GRAMMY FOR BEST REGGAE ALBUM SPARKS ONLINE CONTROVERSY [IRIE FM - April 4, 2022]
"American Reggae Band SOJA sparked controversy across social media platforms on Sunday following the announcement of their Grammy win for the Best Reggae Album."
ETANA ‘HAPPY’ FOR SOJA [Jamaica Gleaner - April 4, 2022]
“I’m always happy to see others win,” Etana told The Gleaner, adding that it remains an honour to have her work considered for the prestigious award, “and to be nominated is always exciting”.
REGGAE BAND SOJA'S WIN AT THE GRAMMYS SPARKS ONLINE CRITICISM: 'WE NEED MUSICAL JUSTICE' [USA TODAY - April 4, 2022]
"Disappointed music fans took to social media to voice their outrage, with many pointing out the racial disparity of a white band winning an award in a reggae music category. "If majority of Jamaicans across the world are unaware of your existence, you should not be winning a grammy for best Reggae album, sorry not sorry.""
BACKLASH AGAINST SOJA'S REGGAE GRAMMY WIN UNJUSTIFIED, SAYS MUSICOLOGIST [Jamaica Observer - April 4, 2022]
"Most Jamaicans reacted with anger and disdain at news that SOJA, a predominantly all-white reggae band, had won this year's Reggae Grammy with their album, 'Beauty in the Silence'. However, one industry expert, Dr Dennis Howard, an ethno-musicologist, believes that the anger of Jamaicans is unjustified."
'YOU DIDN'T LEAVE WITH THE GRAMMY, BUT YOU CERTAINLY MADE YOUR MARK' [Jamaica Observer - April 4, 2022]
"Internationally renowned artiste, Shaggy, says while dancehall queen Spice did not walk away with a win at the recently concluded Grammy Awards, the powerhouse female deejay had everyone clamouring to get interviews on the prestigious red carpet."
I AM GLAD SOJA WON! [Dancehallmag.com - April 4, 2022]
"Some feel that this win adds insult to injury, and have all sorts of xenophobic and racist comments to post online, but all I can say is: Finally."
CHRONIXX DEFENDS SOJA [Jamaica Observer - April 5, 2022]
"Reggae artiste Chronixx has jumped to the defence of predominantly white Grammy-winning group SOJA after their Reggae Album win ignited a firestorm of criticism on social media."
CHRONIXX, ETANA, GRAMPS MORGAN SUPPORT SOJA’S REGGAE GRAMMY WIN [Dancehallmag.com - April 5, 2022]
"Reggae stars Chronixx, Etana, and Gramps Morgan have declared their support and offered their congratulations to Virginia-based Reggae band SOJA on their 2022 Grammy win for the Best Reggae Album."
SOJA'S WIN, NO AMBUSH [Jamaica Observer - April 5, 2022]
“I'm really shocked that people are shocked that SOJA got it. They're a band that's been around 25 years and they didn't just pop up. This is a movement that's been all over the world. I mean, reggae music is the most important genre in the world."
SOJA IS NO CULTURE VULTURE, SAYS JAMAICAN ENGINEER [Jamaica Star - April 5, 2022]
"American band SOJA has been receiving flak from several Jamaicans for being "culture vultures" since winning the Grammy award for Best Reggae album for their 2021 release Beauty in the Silence."
JAMAICANS ‘NOT ENTITLED’ TO AMERICAN AWARD, SAYS HEAVY D [Jamaica Gleaner - April 6, 2022]
"The Grammys is not for Jamaica,” Fraser told The Gleaner. “Even though the category says ‘reggae’, the whole world sings reggae. Nuff time dem give we a break and dem give the Marleys or other artistes. The mistake Jamaicans make is thinking it is a Jamaican award when it’s not."
CHRIS SCHLARB CREDITS SOLID MARKETING FOR SOJA BEST REGGAE ALBUM GRAMMY WIN [SFCN.com - April 6, 2022]
"Chris Schlarb, principal of DubShot Records, credits solid marketing and disciplined management for the success of SOJA and other American reggae bands."
MUSIC EXEC NOLAN BAYNES SAYS GET BETTER AT WORKING GRAMMY AWARDS SYSTEM OR BUILD YOUR OWN [Dancehallmag.com - April 7, 2022]
"Music executive Nolan Baynes says the Grammy Awards are not necessarily curated for Reggae and Dancehall music and insists that Jamaican music professionals either band together to support local entertainment award shows or fully participate in the American system by becoming members of the Recording Academy."
WHAT’S UP WITH THE REGGAE GRAMMY? [Caribbean National Weekly - April 7, 2022]
"It is the first time an all-white group and the second time a non-Jamaican person or group took home the award in the category’s 37 year history. English musician Sting won the award with Shaggy in 2019 for the album 44/876."
EDITORIAL | FOLLY OF GRAMMY DEBATE [Jamaica Gleaner - April 8, 2022]
"It is deeply troubling the outpouring of national angst, hostility even, that has accompanied the selection of the band SOJA as the winner of this year’s Grammy, in the reggae category, for their album ‘Beauty in the Silence’."
SOJA DEBATE RAGES ON [Jamaica Observer - April 8, 2022]
"Jamaican entertainers Chronixx, Konshens, and Tanya Stephens have added their voice to the conversation about SOJA's Reggae Grammy win at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday."
SOJA'S JA LINK - MARZOUCA ENGINEERS SOJA'S WIN [Jamaica Observer - April 8, 2022]
"Cornwell College alumnus Niko Marzouca is happy to have been a part of SOJA's Grammy-winning album Beauty in the Silence. The album won the Best Reggae Album trophy from a field of six nominees at the 64th Grammy Awards on Sunday. […]Marzouca, whose father is Jamaican, was born in Florida but he relocated to Montego Bay where he attended Cornwall College."
FREDDIE HAILS SOJA'S VICTORY [Jamaica Observer - April 11, 2022]
"While SOJA's Grammy win for Best Reggae Album shocked many reggae pundits, Freddie McGregor is not surprised. The veteran singer says the historic victory is “well-deserved” because the American band “had the only reggae album in the category”."
BUFFALO SOJA [Jamaica Observer - April 20, 2022]
"The recent Grammy Award in the reggae category brought howls of disagreement from Jamaicans mainly because a band comprising white Americans — SOJA — walked off with the prize. I gather some felt the award was the preserve of Jamaicans."
IN THE MEDIA - VIDEOS
WHO IS SOJA & WHY DID THEY REALLY WIN THE 2022 REGGAE GRAMMY | JAMAICANS REACT
[The Dutty Berry Show - April 4, 2022] WATCH IT HERE!
JAMAICANS REACT TO SOJA REGGAE GRAMMY WIN
[Television Jamaica - April 5, 2022] WATCH IT HERE!
SOJA WINS GRAMMY BEST REGGAE ALBUM AND WE VEX
[RAHTID TV - April 5, 2022] WATCH IT HERE!
HOW EXACTLY SOJA WON THE BEST REGGAE ALBUM GRAMMY with CRISTY BARBER
[The Fix Podcast - April 6, 2022] WATCH IT HERE!
SOJA WINS REGGAE GRAMMY, JAMAICANS IN AN UPROAR, BUT WHY?
[Homegrown with G Cole - April 10, 2022] WATCH IT HERE!
Additional we highly recommend to watch this interview below with SOJA's lead singer Jacob Hemphill @ OnStage TV, which aired back in 2015!