The Zion Lion Reggae Band knows people might be turned off by the term “reggae.” So the band considers itself an evangelist of the style.
“We’ve had many people that tell us that we’ve converted them to reggae music,” band member Myra Atkinson said.
Zion Lion tries to cater their style to each audience they perform for, while keeping it family friendly. They play signature songs from the Caribbean to get the children involved and to get the rest of the audience up and moving.
“They don’t have to dance per se, but just move a little and get into the Caribbean feel, even if just for a moment,” Atkinson said.
The band’s music consists of some standards that most people know, such as those by Bob Marley, the “godfather of reggae music,” according to Atkinson. Beyond that, the band does an assortment of cover pop tunes such as “Hello” by Adele and “Royals” by Lorde.
Many people don’t know the depth of reggae music, so they are turned off by the name. Atkinson shared that there are multiple styles of reggae, so she encourages people to give their concert a try in hopes that they come away with a whole different view of reggae music.
In her experience, people have been shocked by how much they love it.
Finding the Right musicians
Atkinson joined Zion Lion 15 years ago as lead vocalist and steel pan and keyboard player. The band had been founded five years before that by drummer and arranger Preston Moore.
“I’ve been into music since junior high school,” Atkinson said. “I’m a self-taught guitar player and had been playing with another group prior to Zion Lion.”
But then Moore presented Atkinson with the offer to join his band, and the rest is history.
Current members of the Zion Lion Reggae Band include Moore and Atkinson, along with John Foster as lead and rhythm guitar, Webster John-Baptiste on bass guitar, Willie Phipps on keyboard, Assane Dia on djembe, and Joel Finley-Pink on keyboard and bass guitar.
Though each band member calls a different place their hometown, the band is currently located in Kalamazoo, Mich.
The band has gone through several member changes over the years. The current group has been playing together for the past five years, though they are still switching between two keyboard players.
“It’s tough to keep musicians because they are always trying to switch around, but we try to be consistent and keep the members in the band as much as possible so that the band can sound its best,” Atkinson said.
Since Caribbean music has different styles and tempos required to play reggae, it’s difficult to find people who fit the criteria for the band.
“Any of the music from the Caribbean has a different feel, so sometimes it can be a little challenging as far as getting the right musician to come in,” Atkinson said.
Finding great venues
Music lovers can find the band performing at shows all around, especially along the lakeshore, throughout the summer months and beyond.
“We’re booked every weekend this summer, from the first weekend in June to the third weekend in September,” Atkinson said.
According to Atkinson, the band is searching for outdoor venues to host them, in addition to doing private events.
“We’re trying to get away from bars,” Atkinson said. “We’ll do some, but by the time you get home from the bars, it can be 4 a.m. That’s why we love doing the summer venues, because we know we’ll have rooms to lay our heads down in that night.”
The Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory hosted the band a few years ago, and the band says Fort Wayne is one of their favorite places to perform.
“We appreciate good venues such as the Botanical Conservatory, which is the reason I’ve kept asking for us to come back and perform there again,” Atkinson said. “I’m really impressed with the venue. We’re always treated somewhat like royalty when we’re there.”
Having a positive impact
Atkinson loves traveling to different venues and meeting different people and putting a smile on their face.
Last time they performed here in Fort Wayne the band did just that.
“A woman approached me and told me that she was having a terrible day,” Atkinson said. “She said she was so glad she came to our show because it made her day better and had a real impact on her.”
Zion Lion has produced one album. The band had recorded a second album, but the material somehow disappeared.
“That was a bit of a setback,” Atkinson said. “We’ve been trying to find time to compose our next album but everyone’s been so busy. There are a few members who still work full-time.”
Their hope is to produce another album this winter through one of their basement sessions, where music just comes to their head and they put tracks and lyrics together.
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