Search “Philly” and “reggae” in Google and Jonifin Marvin Benjamin is one of the first hits.
And that’s exactly what he wanted.
Benjamin, who was born in Jamaica, said he has always had a close interaction with reggae music, a staple in Jamaican culture. Despite his move to Philadelphia at 4 years old, Benjamin said he wholeheartedly considers himself both a Jamaican and a Philadelphian.
Benjamin said he noticed there was no platform for reggae music in Philadelphia, so he created the Philly Reggae Band last year to remedy the situation. Having experience with music drew him to want to create his own platform.
“I’ve always worked with music. It hasn’t always been in reggae, “ Benjamin said. “I wanted to create a consistent source of reggae in Philadelphia because it’s needed. A lot of Jamaicans here are working-class and might not think about entertainment so much and thinking about their families.”
The Philly Reggae Band plays as a cover band at the moment, but it always adds a touch of its own flair to the music. Hopefully, Benjamin said, the band will be ready to start its own material in the near future.
Philadelphia DJ Supa Tang works as the band’s residential DJ, as well as a radio host and producer, adding a new twist of sound to reggae music.
“[Benjamin] wants to do more experimental things and that’s where I come on,” Tang said. “‘The Beat Goes On” – he did a reggae version of that song and people loved it. I mean, I’m a female reggae DJ so people come over and are surprised and will ask me or them about that.”
There are no permanent members in the Philly Reggae Band. However, there are a few members who appear more frequently than others, and there is a list of people who have said they are committed to the group and could stand in when a musician is needed.
“Bands fall apart because you get sidetracked, or other people get sidetracked with other things, so I set up the structure so it feels safe,” Benjamin said.
But Benjamin said he’s just excited about bringing five reggae musicians together in Philadelphia, wanting to show the city that there is more to reggae music than Bob Marley.
Benjamin said that when he created the name of his band, he received backlash from people who questioned its legitimacy.
“I want people to see Philly and reggae together… It’s really just creating visibility, creating strategies, so people like the name now, [but] some people were like, ‘Why are they going to name it that? [Are] they going to be the [city’s] official reggae band?’ We are trying to be the official reggae band,” Benjamin said. “I want to be a staple here, the front-runner of a reggae band. I want them to get more festivals and book them gigs in New York as well, but I want them to be a staple here in Philly.”
“Their name is genius,” Tang said.
Since it is still a cover band, there have been no albums released or record deals yet, but Benjamin is hoping to get the opportunity to represent the city’s growing reggae community. He said he is also hoping to work more on stage presence now that the band’s first-year anniversary is coming up.
Aside from the legitimacy of the band name, what’s most important is the legitimacy of the music, Benjamin said. He wants to make listeners feel like they’re on an island.
“Like they are actually in Jamaica,” Benjamin said.
Chelsea Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.