Review: Tarrus Riley’s music is not only “Contagious,” but highly addictive

Tarrus Riley, a 30-year-old Jamaican-American and son of reggae legend Jimmy Riley (The Uniques), captivated San Diego reggae fans with an energy-packed performance inside the Belly Up Tavern on Feb. 23.

Local favorite, Stranger band opened the show at 9:10 p.m. and performed songs from their latest EP, “Some Kinda Sign,” including the slow and rhythmic, “The Only One.”

Legendary reggae saxophonist, Dean Fraser with the Blak Soil band, played an impressive 10-minute set featuring Sherieta Lewis, a back up singer for Tarrus Riley.

Opening with “Lion Paw” from the highly acclaimed 2006 “Parables” album, Riley set the tempo and engaged the audience immediately.  Fans responded with by waving fist-pumped arms in unison.

Riley was dressed casually in jeans and a black t-shirt under a green military-style jacket, with a Haile Selassie photo pinned to the front.  His locks were pulled back in a ponytail and he was wearing semi-rimmed glasses that accentuated his good looks.

The crowd yelled and clapped when Riley performed “Start A New,” an empowering message to women currently in violent relationships, encouraging them to “cut it off.”

Keeping with the upbeat tempo, the Blak Soil band began playing the “Coming in from the Cold” riddim, and Riley began singing the hit “Love’s Contagious.”

The crowd went wild, dancing and singing along.

Impressing fans with his strong knowledge and familiarity of non-reggae music, Riley began an a capella version of Tracy Chapman’s “Sorry,” pointing the microphone to crowd who were singing louder than he.

The show’s biggest moment was the battle between Riley and Fraser – vocals versus saxophone (above).  Riley, confident that his vocal pieces couldn’t be duplicated, was surprised by Fraser’s skills.

The staged battle was the intro into the mega hit “She’s Royal.”

Tarrus Riley signing autographs and mingling with fans

Like most reggae artists, Riley took advantage of the intimate Belly Up Tavern setting, by meeting and thanking fans at the end of the show.  His friendly and welcoming personality made the show even more of a success. Riley was very gracious with his time, having his photo taken with fans and signing autographs.

San Diego is home to a small Caribbean population, but reggae is big in the heart of many non-Caribbeans here.  Nothing short of an excellent performance, Riley impressed the crowd, regardless of who was in attendance.

Tarrus Riley is what reggae needs, positive music, providing uplifting messages of hope and unity, while denouncing violence and participating in rivalries.

Mz. Jackson

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Tarrus Riley leads the male artists with six nominations, but was snubbed for the Songwriter of the Year category. Sean Paul received four nominations, including a Community Service Award for “Save a Life,” a benefit song for the Bustamente Hospital in Jamaica. […]


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