Botanical Roots feat. Zion Lion
8:30 p.m. Friday, August 1
1100 S. Calhoun St., Fort Wayne
Tix: $6 d.o.s., children under 12 free with adult, 260-427-6440
Botanical Roots feat. Zion Lion
Happily Making Reggae Roar
When it comes to roots music, few genre’s roots go quite as deep as reggae’s, and when it comes to reggae, few bands have the history, cred and passion as Kalamazoo’s Zion Lion.
This six-piece reggae/calypso/zouk band will be performing as part of the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory Botanical Roots series Friday, August 1 with local show openers U.R.B.
Formed 13 years ago, Zion Lion – Preston Moore (drums), “Sista” Myra D. Atkinson (lead vocals and steel pan), Dennis “Bassey” McCurine (bass), Antonio Santos (lead guitar) and Preston Junior Kizer-Moore (keys and lead and background vocals) – play a tasty and diverse stew of Caribbean-based music. In addition to reggae, calypso and zouk, you’ll hear mucosa and a few Afro-Latin strains for good measure.
The band’s influences include Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Roberta Flack, Youssif N’dor and Baaba Maal. Their setlist is a mixture of originals and covers, and you’re almost guaranteed to hear Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” and classic Caribbean favorite “Yellow Bird.” According Atkinson, the members of Zion Lion are expert at getting the kids in the audience up on their feet.
“We want our audiences to walk away feeling happy,” she told me in a recent phone interview. “We always get a lot of participation from the audience, particularly the children. They find a lot of joy in what we do.”
As fun as a Zion Lion show might be, attendees won’t just leave with a smile on their faces. Chances are good they’ll also have learned something, too.
“We take the time to explain what kind of music we’re playing and to give our audiences a little background about that music’s importance in the region where it started,” Atkinson said. “We play a bit of everything, so usually fans come up to us and say, ‘Wow, that was kind of a whirlwind world tour.’ We’re here to entertain but also to educate.”
Atkinson, whose musical journey began with a few piano lessons when she was three years old, has traveled to Jamaica a number of times as well as to Trinidad in order to educate herself about the music she most loves to play. She said her time in both countries was invaluable.
“It was so great getting in and mingling with the musicians in both countries. Absorbing what they were about, learning from them, watching and listening and sometimes sitting in on jam sessions in someone’s yard or on someone’s porch – it was all wonderful and important in teaching me about the people who served as the originators of the music.”
Reggae often blends the personal with the political. Songs that to the untrained ear might sound like tropical paradise dance numbers are often protest tunes about the injustices suffered by those forced by a powerful and corrupt elite to live lives of devastating poverty. Zion Lion specialize in roots reggae, which dares to ask the big questions about economic inequality, slavery and the role of the divine in human existence.
“We’re a band with a purpose,” said Atkinson. “A lot of people think reggae is just a bunch of marijuana smoking folks playing a catchy beat, but we like to explore the spiritual aspect of the music and the political side as well. It’s music that should make you think.”
This band with a purpose is currently working on its second CD, the as of yet untitled followup to their debut, Irie Feelin’. It’s taken them a number of years to get new material together, partially because they lost a member – Nathan Ndjhirane – to a tragic drowning accident in 2008. But Atkinson said they’re determined to finish the album before the end of the year.
“I’ve told the guys that we’re just going to have to lock ourselves in the studio for an entire weekend or however long it takes and not come out until we’re finished. It’s time. We’re ready.”