The heartbeat of the lion |

The heartbeat of the lion

Raggafunk band plays music, not cultural misinterpretations

Lion Vibes is a nine-piece band from Grand Junction that will be performing at Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill on Friday night.

— Matt Vagts – the manager, saxophone player and singer for Lion Vibes – often gets dirty looks in the grocery store.

“I have dreads down to my waist and teach middle school choir,” Vagts said. “I started this band to educate the community about culture.”

Lion Vibes is a nine-piece band from Grand Junction that plays “raggafunk,” a combination of reggae with dub, dancehall and world beat, that is influenced by blues and funk, with a horn section and dancehall emcee.

“In our genre of reggae, a 15-person band is average. We could add three or four people to make it complete,” Vagts said. “So we will switch instruments for part of a set where the drummer goes to bass and the Conga player goes to drums.”

The band’s repertoire is made up of 90 percent original music and 10 percent covers that the band rebuilds with a twist.

“We have two to three horns in each song and three to four-part vocal harmonies,” Vagts said. “It’s well-orchestrated music and we re-create our songs the way they were recorded. I’m a purist that way.”

Lion Vibes is not a reggae band and they do not claim to be Rastafarians.

“I’m not Jamaican. There are so many bands here in Colorado that think they are Jamaican because they’ve been there,” Vagts said. “I like to go to bed at night and know that I am true to who I am. Americans are so into putting labels on people.”

Members of the band often struggle with their public perception in Grand Junction.

“We’re not in the most culturally diverse area and we have a lot of critics who are really ignorant,” Vagts said. “This is a small town. This is Western Colorado. People have come up to us and said, ‘if you’re white, you should be playing rock ‘n’ roll.’ But the kings of rock ‘n’ roll are all black.”

All nine members of the band are moving to Denver this summer.

“There, we could be playing three to four times a week. Here, we play two or four times a month,” Vagts said. “It isn’t just country and blues out there.”

Vagts was first attracted to the Rastafarian culture and reggae style of music when he was in sixth grade.

“My parents were divorced and I had to make a decision to listen to positive music or negative music, and I decided to listen to Bob Marley,” he said. “It had a good beat and message – it’s the heart beat – it was steady in the times when I was not.”

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