International Reggae All Stars spin mellow into gold

The International Reggae All Stars’ brotherly bond has kept the local band tight and the tunes mellifluous for over 20 years.

Guitar player and vocalist Tenn Jah-Bee Bennett preforms on Tuesday at Bunkers Music Bar & Grill. International Reggae All-Stars are a diverse reggae group featuring members from Jamaica, Trinidad, Venezuela and other countries.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

Guitar player and vocalist Tenn “Jah-Bee” Bennett preforms on Tuesday at Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill. International Reggae All-Stars are a diverse reggae group featuring members from Jamaica, Trinidad, Venezuela and other countries.

Jared Hemming

The International Reggae All Stars are brothers from other countries.

Despite having members from different parts of Jamaica, Trinidad, Venezuela and Ghana, IRAS (pronounced Eye-Rahz, as in ‘Rasta’) considers the Minneapolis reggae scene to be its home. Though the band formed in the early 1990s, all of its members migrated to Minneapolis in time for the Twin Cities’ emerging pop, R&B and reggae communities in the mid-1980s, when dancehall and traditional reggae acts like Shangoya and Ipso Facto were established on the scene.

“There’s always been a reggae scene and support system,” drummer Brian Alexis said of the metro area. “The Twin Cities music scene has always been very vibrant underneath. I don’t care what type of music you’re playing — it’s always been there.”

The International Reggae All Stars began as a one-off collaboration between Alexis, percussionist Tony Paul and singer Lynval Jackson, among a wider group of area reggae musicians in 1991.

“We really didn’t think we were going to be here 20 years later, because it was more like a fun thing,” said Jackson, who also works as a transit coordinator for Hennepin County Schools. “We booked a weekend of shows. From there, it just kind of took off.”

These days, Paul said the band remains one of the few reggae acts from the early 1990s that still plays in Minneapolis.

“It’s one big family. We support one another — we got to,” he said. “Otherwise the scene will die.”

Manager Jeff Taube originally founded IRAS as a Bob Marley tribute band to play the Cabooze every February. The group now sells out the venue each year for the tribute, but their performance has evolved into more than a Marley act.

“It’s difficult to watch the band and sit still. There’s never any bad vibes,” Taube said.

Today, the band’s liquid gold catalogue ranges from Peter Tosh to Gregory Isaacs and an even vibier version of “Let’s Get It On.”

“When people come out to hear a reggae band they’ve never heard before and you start playing Marvin Gaye, they’re like, ‘Whoa,’” Jackson said.

Fleshed out by keyboardist Charles “Chilly” Petrus, guitarist Tenn “Jah-Bee” Bennett and bassist Sei “Bingo” Kpolar, the band attributes their steady traction to brotherly natures.

“We go way back. We like being around each other, simple as that. There’s no egos,” Jackson said. “You find some bands, the singer’s like, ‘I make this happen.’ We’re not fussy people. Without everybody here, it wouldn’t be what it is.”

On the band’s steady sound, Jackson calls their particular blend of R&B, calypso, reggae and afrobeat “Lover’s Rock.”

“Well, reggae’s not hard to dance to, but [Lover’s Rock] is a little more mellow,” Jackson said. “It’s more relaxing.”

Bennett, who joined the band a year after its formation, says the All Stars emphasize their own take on reggae standards.

“We improvise, put our own color into it, decorate it,” Bennett said. “You’ve got to get a different flavor every time you play.”

IRAS plays down its members’ global heritages and emphasizes the Twin Cities as its home base. At its start, IRAS originated as the Minneapolis Reggae All Stars and served as a supergroup of various other local reggae acts, particularly 1970s holdover Shangoya.

“A lot of musicians started there,” Alexis said of Shangoya, which broke-up after singer Peter Nelson passed away in 2004. “The musicians kept on playing chess. There’s only so many musicians playing reggae stuff.”

Though Minneapolis and reggae aren’t culturally synonymous, Jackson laughs off the typical Midwestern diversity.

“We’ve gone to places where the band is the only set of black people. It’s actually fun. People embrace you,” Jackson said.

After playing gigs in the Midwest for 23 years, Alexis said the music has always broken down the band’s and the audience’s heritage differences.

“At the end of the day, it’s reggae. It’s one common denominator.”

 

What: International Reggae All Stars

When: 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays

Where: Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill, 761 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: $6

Age: 21+