Six years ago childhood friends Rio Panapa (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Joel Latimer (keyboards/vocals) and Samuel Eriwata (percussion/vocals) teamed up with Marika Hodgson (lead guitar), Dylan Stewart (bass guitar) and Tawhiri Littlejohn (drums) to form Sons of Zion. Hailing from Rotorua, Whangarei and Auckland, they were unified as a band by their work ethic, open eared approach to music, and a strong collective focus on regional identity, family and community.
At the time a mixture of metal, reggae, jazz, funk, RnB and electronica musicians, they folded their influences together, finding an easy going space between tender RnB love songs and sun-kissed roots reggae. After writing and rehearsing their early songs inside a small garage in the Auckland suburb of Botany Downs, Sons of Zion made their public debut during New Zealand Music Month 2007. Word spread, and in the days following, opportunities rolled in.
2009 arrived, and with it came Sons of Zion’s self-titled debut album, a record which drew comparisons to the work of Kora and Steel Pulse, while firmly embedding them in the summer touring scene alongside Katchafire, House of Shem, Cornerstone Roots, Kora and The Black Seeds. These experiences gave them a slow-burning momentum, which eventually led to an appearance at Raggamuffin 2011 opening for Mary J Blige, Jimmy Cliff and Maxi Priest, as well as Australian touring.
Since then Sons of Zion have received over 600,000 combined YouTube videos views for their singles ‘Tell Her’, ‘Good Love’ and ‘Superman (featuring Tomorrow People)’, and regularly entered the top twenty on various New Zealand airplay charts, including #1 NZ airplay and #1 Urban airplay. With this has come 28,000 plus followers on Facebook, international airplay in Hawaii on Power 104.3 and KCCN FM, and between mid 2012 and mid 2013, eighteen shows across the North Island.
Earlier this year Sons of Zion took part in the Aoteaora Reggae All Stars project, contributing to a charity remake of ‘Sensitive To A Smile’ by Herbs. They also performed ‘Superman’ live on X-Factor New Zealand, and were nominated for ‘Best Song By A Maori Artist’ and ‘Best Song Writer’ at the Waiata Maori Music Awards.
Right now, Sons of Zion are poised to release their self-engineered and self-produced second album. With Marika Hodgson and Tawhiri Littlejohn having departed the band to focus elsewhere, Sons of Zion’s current line-up includes new members Harlem McKenzie (lead guitar), Dylan Elise (drums) and Matthew Sadgrove (keys and saxophone). It isn’t just the band line-up that has evolved however. Between albums, they’re simplified their sound, focusing on succinct song structures, memorable hooks and strong melodies and harmonies. In Rio Panapa’s words, “There is definitely something in this album for every musical taste. We have kept the Sons of Zion sound, but this album shows a progression of that Sons flavour into a more mature and modern space.”
While in the past they wowed through technical virtuosity and explosive live energy, this time round Sonz of Zion are looking to bring it home. They bring us the gift of songs worth revisiting for summers to come.