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February 23, 2009 | by  | in Features |
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An Interview with Logan Bell of Katchafire Family Roots

From humble beginnings as a Bob Marley cover band in Hamilton, Katchafire have emerged as New Zealand’s premier roots-reggae group. Incorporating elements of funk and pop, they’ve crafted three albums over the last six years, and notched a #1 single in ‘Giddy Up’. This year, their BBQ vibes are being taken across the world, spreading the dreadlocked, sunny love that they’ve shown to New Zealand across Europe, USA and potentially Japan. But before they hit the globe (and release an inevitable Live at Budokan DVD, probably), Katchafire will be playing here at Orientation ’09, starting the reggae party as only they can. We had a talk with singer/guitarist Logan Bell about their style, Hawaii, and exactly why you can’t stop the fire.

Logan BellAfter releasing their second album, Slow Burning, Katchafire’s Hawaiian fan base exploded, leading to them headlining the 10,000-capacity Waikiki Shell, and being invited back to their dominant festivals year after year. “It’s a massive part of the culture over there”, Bell states. “Reggae is huge in Hawaii, and I think we kinda do something different with it, which they really love”.

The point of difference between Katchafire and other reggae acts, he explains, is the pop sensibilities that they exhibit throughout their music. Not content to stick to the cookie-cutter mould that defines the majority of bands in the reggae canon, “…we use a lot of really nice harmonies, lots of afro-beat rhythms, it all pretty much comes together in a sweet, pop sound.” The Afro-pop influence is nothing new to music, from Paul Simon’s Graceland to the recent Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective, and it’s an influence equally prominent in reggae.

However, when your genre is as distinct and easily recreated as reggae, it becomes a challenge to distance yourself from the slew of groups who sound all too similar. Despite this sameness among its disciples, reggae has remained wholly relevant and popular since its inception in the late 50s, something which Bell puts down to its timeless nature. “It obviously peaked, you know, with Bob Marley, he concentrated all these elements of rock, funk, even some gospel stuff, and really pushed it. I suppose he made reggae more than a genre, he made it an idea eh, and it’s just made it really timeless, lasting music.”

For Katchafire, the idea of making music to cross generations isn’t expressed solely in the music itself. With different generations of the Bell family coming and going from the band, their very lineup exhibits the intergenerational qualities that he attributed to reggae music. Given this closeness within the band, it comes as no surprise that they are inseparable as a unit. “We’ve had a lot of lineup changes over the years, but it was all done amicably, no bad feelings, we all get along. I don’t think we’d ever get to a point where we’d want to stop doing what we’re doing- you can’t stop the fire.”

And when things are going as well as they have been for Katchafire, it’s a pretty difficult statement to argue with. A glance at their Rhythm and Vines show last year showed the massive following they have, with “…the young kids who come to our shows, but also their parents, and grandparents- the crowds really reflect the diversity we’ve got going on in our band.” Funnily enough, for a band whose live show seems perfectly suited to the sun-drenched stages of festivals like Rhythm & Vines, Bell actually prefers the indoor show. “The 500-capacity bar man, that’s it for me. Standing right up by the front row, the intimacy, you can’t beat it.”—something which bodes well for their upcoming show here.

Being what is essentially the headliner act for Orientation, Katchafire have worked themselves up the NZ music ladder diligently over the last decade or so. As a band who is relatively experienced in the NZ music market, I asked Bell which upcoming NZ bands he’s enjoying the most at the moment. “The Electric Confectionaires are pretty cool, tight vocals, good vibes—real nice sense of harmony.” Consider them plugged. And where to after Orientation? “We’ve got a lot of hits and requests to play from our MySpace for all over, heaps in Japan, and places in Europe, so we’re in talks to get that going, and hopefully get ourselves out there more.” Following that, they plan to get album #4 underway “…maybe late this year, but probably 2010. We do a lot of our writing on tour, so we’ll see how that all goes.”

If you like your reggae all drenched in harmony and family vibes, look no further than Katchafire’s show in the Student Union Building next week. Funked-up roots (take it how you will), harmonies to put the Soggy Bottom Boys to shame, and enough hazy high times to make you see in sepia for a week will be the order of the day: you’d best not miss it, or they might just relocate to Hawaii. Party on, kiddies.

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  1. Moomama says:

    OOOHHHH Moomama gonna be there….

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