Slow-burning sounds   28 Jun 2006

Georgia Power

MUSIC: New Zealand's love of reggae should never be underestimated. The phenomenal rise of dub in New Zealand reflects a nationwide passion for roots music that reaches back into the 1970s, and specifically Bob Marley's legendary Western Springs concert in 1979.

Your average New Zealander nurses a soft spot for Marley. Over the years his songs have provided the soundtrack to tipsy banter and reminisces at countless Kiwi summer get-togethers, as beer cans and half-eaten sizzlers gathered on the coffee table and neglected lettuce leaves lay limp in the salad bowl. While nearby, on the beach, the shadows of the pohutakawa trees gradually lengthened and the sun finally set into the sea.

The success of orthodox reggae eight-piece Katchafire is rooted in this nostalgic summery appeal. The triumph of their flagship single Giddy Up back in 2003 took everybody by surprise, including the musicians themselves. However, when you think about it, the band’s popularity makes perfect sense.

They are anchored in radio-friendly 1970s reggae, and the combination of vibrant, celebratory singing and laid-backed rhythm produced by Marley and his devout Kiwi followers has a broad appeal. It is cross-generational and cross-cultural music, and as such resonates with a wider audience than that of the latte-swigging dub hipsters.

And now, after four years solid touring at home, and with two albums under their belt – the appropriately named Revival and follow-up Slow Burning – Katchafire are preparing to bring their music to Old Blighty. This will be their first UK tour and singer Logan Bell is excited.

"We have only seen the UK from the TV so to experience another culture and the vibe that it brings is something we can’t wait to do."

Already Bell has been overwhelmed by the response to Katchafire’s imminent arrival in the UK.

"We have received phone calls and many emails about dates. And we have a few gigs already booked out."

Katchafire are renowned for their four-hour gigs, so fans can expect to get their money’s worth. When asked what audiences can expect from Katchafire live, Bell is confident of the band’s ability to impress.

"We are known here in New Zealand for our sweet harmonies, and for having a heap of fun on stage, so that’s what we will definitely be bringing with us. Some feel-good roots reggae music Aotearoa style!"

Despite their traditional leanings Katchafire do not come to us sealed in carbon from 1970s Jamaica. Their music incorporates influences from the past two decades and their sound reflects the Maori heritage of its musicians. The band uses traditional roots music as its base, but with infusions of jazz, R ‘n’ B and soul.

Their remix album, Homegrown Dub was released earlier this year and Bell believes it reveals a different side of Katchafire. In addition to the desired effect of broadening the band’s audience, Bell found the collaborative experience lots of fun and was fascinated to hear other musicians reinterpret Katchafire’s music and send it in new directions.

The singer hopes the UK tour will lay the foundation for future tours and record releases in Europe.

"We know there are a lot of expats in the UK who have always supported New Zealand bands such as Salmonella Dub, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Trinity Roots, Nathan Haines … so we hope to build on the reputation that New Zealand music has within the UK.

Katchafire have already undertaken four tours of Australia and will be taking their music to Hawaii for the second time in August.

"Hawaii is so much like New Zealand that it’s like a home away from home" Bell says.

"Beaches aren’t bad either."

• Katchafire make their London debut on July 13 at The Coronet in Elephant and Castle. Tickets cost £12 in advance from Ticketweb.co.uk (08700 600 100) or £15 on the door. For more information visit spacific.net or katchafire.co.nz.

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