“We’ll give you the shirt off our back, but if you cross us you’re out”
Katchafire are relative veterans in New Zealand/Aotearoa’s thriving reggae scene. Formed in 1997 in Hamilton on the North Island they have travelled quite literally from playing Bob Marley covers in local clubs to becoming a platinum selling internationally touring juggernaut of blissful yet heavily rooted vibes. They’ve recorded four albums and made some tactical changes to a line-up that has crystallised around manager Grenville Bell, his sons Logan and Jordan, and their friends.
This year they released a compilation ‘The Best So Far’, distributed by VP records, to introduce their works to a wider audience beyond their strongholds in New Zealand/Aotearoa, Hawaii and California. It charts the progress of their sound – influenced harmonically by their own Maori culture and English groups such as Aswad and Steel Pulse – from fairly light-hearted herb-love metaphors, to weightier issues of police discrimination, to the inevitable experiments with soul and funk.
As Katchafire were prepaing to embark on a UK and European summer tour that took in the world famous Glastonbury festival, Angus Taylor spoke to lead singer and guitarist Logan Bell about the group’s trailblazing journey. London to NZ interview link ups are often a delicate balance between someone who’s raring to go in the morning and someone who’s had a hard day and wants to go to bed. This time poor Logan was the tired one but answered some of the heavier questions with good grace!
First question. The boring one for all non-Jamaicans. How did you get into reggae?
I guess really I was brought up in reggae. I used to listen to a lot of Steel Pulse and Marley growing up, even when I was younger than that. A lot of the older kids around our hood, around our street, would be playing reggae and a lot of indigenous Maori. We lived right in the middle of the ghetto and that’s when I first had contact with it until I got to the age of about 15 or 16 where I started wanting to play it.
I just used to listen to the old records and really gravitate to that stuff. And I still do. It was cool. I guess the lyrics… New Zealand’s pretty Marley-centric, so I guess Katchafire is too. I really dug what they were doing back then in the late 60s and the 70s.
One of the things that really comes across in listening to your music is the harmonies. Which harmony groups inspired you?
I guess first and foremost the Wailers, especially when it was all male harmonies, definitely Third World, Aswad, Steel Pulse, UB40, the list goes on. Maori people in general, we love to sing, to harmonise with each other. Early Katchafire days when we were playing a lot of covers, we just used to go through the songs with a guitar and do four part harmonies all day. And you know? We were good! (laughs)