The Serious Business of Family Harmony
Harmony is serious business where the Dedicated Men of Zion come from. The group’s eldest member, Anthony “Amp” Daniels, remembers how serious harmony was to his mother. Every day, she would call her children inside, turn off the television, and make them sing in harmony, talk in harmony, do everything in harmony. Singing well together was a virtue that she and her sisters had learned from their own father, and Anthony passed it on to his own children.
The power of harmony fed the souls of the Black communities of rural North Carolina when both respect and money were especially scarce.
“That’s where that seriousness is from,” Amp remembers. “They demand respect. They’re serious about what they do and they don’t play with God.”
The Dedicated Men of Zion — all eight of them — come from a singing tradition that has flourished for decades in eastern North Carolina, around the city of Greenville and its small neighboring town of Farmville. Trained in the church and the home, the group’s four vocalists — Anthony Daniels, Antwan Daniels, Dexter Weaver, and Marcus Sugg — share the bond of that music and the literal bond of kinship. They are all related by blood or marriage.
Through Music Maker, the DMZ connected with the Bible & Tire Recording Co., founded by producer Bruce Watson of Fat Possum Records. Watson had often heard the deep-rooted country gospel coming from African American churches. He wanted to deliver that soulful sound to listeners beyond the church circuits, so Music Maker co-foundeR Tim Duffy coined another term to describe it: “sacred soul.”
Watson recorded the Dedicated Men of Zion’s debut album, “Can’t Turn Me Around,” in Memphis in 2019 at Delta-Sonic Sound facility. Backed by Watson’s all-star studio band, the recordings bring great depth to the incredible harmonies that soar above. The album makes the connection between soul music and church music indelibly clear. Each track on “Can’t Turn Me Around” resonates with the seriousness of DMZ’s raising and the joy of their spiritual inspiration.
When DMZ appeared in 2020’s virtual version of globalFEST, the critical praise began to flow. NPR music critic Ann Powers said DMZ’s music met at the “nexus of secular soul music and gospel.”
“You hear it all in here, right?” she said. “It’s got a little Hi Records flavor, it’s definitely got the Temptations kind of flavor, it’s very Southern at the same time. If you like that kind of secular music, you’re gonna love this even if you have not found Jesus.”
Top photo by Bill Reynolds.