Because of its roots, reggae music will always be closely associated with Jamaica. But because of its message and widespread appeal, it has come to be known as a global movement.
Katchafire, often described as “world famous in New Zealand,” falls into this global category. As a reggae band, they obviously received much of their heritage from the Caribbean island, but they say the people of New Zealand love reggae as much as anywhere in the world and they have taken it as their own.
“New Zealand is probably one of the biggest buyers of reggae music per capita in the world, which is a testament to the passion New Zealand has for reggae,” says Logan Bell, the lead singer for Katchafire, from a tour stop in Lincoln, Neb.
Katchafire is a classically trained, former Bob Marley cover band that came together back in 1997 in Hamilton, New Zealand. Since their beginnings, they have started writing and performing original material almost exclusively, releasing four albums in 15 years incorporating elements of funk, afro-beat, and pop.
After they emerged as New Zealand’s premier roots-reggae group, their sound caught on in the global market, launching them on regular tours of Australia, Europe, and the United States. They are currently on their 10th U.S. tour and will once again be playing The Belly Up this Saturday, April 7.
Bell graduated from performing arts school before the band started, but he had already been writing his own songs. He holds that the transformation from a cover band into a real band was a natural progression.
“I think a lot of the early days when we were a covers band was kind of like a schooling in the deep roots of the art of roots-reggae music,” he says. “When you’re playing these great songs you kind of start getting a feel for how to write good reggae music.”
Their name was inspired by the Bob Marley and The Wailers album “Catch A Fire,” and they stuck with it even after their shift away from covers.
“That was the name that we picked regardless of whether we were writing original music or being a cover band,” says Bell. “There hasn’t been any pressure or any reason to change it.”
When your genre is as easily recreated as reggae, it becomes a challenge to distance yourself from the many groups that sound analogous, especially if your name hasn’t changed since its cover band days.
“Our harmonies are the big point of difference in our music,” says Bell. “We love to harmonize; a lot of Polynesians love to harmonize, that’s what I think sets apart New Zealand roots-reggae from a lot of reggae that’s coming out of the rest of the world.”
Because their music is soaked in harmony with a pop feeling, Katchafire has often been described as pop-reggae, which Bell doesn’t take harshly.
“I think it’s a compliment that means our sound is able to cross over into commercial markets. And I know for a fact that some of the writers in the band have a pop sensibility in their writing, but by no means is that our only flavor or only style.”
Katchafire is doing what they love, gaining a following in places they’ve yet to see. That is their lifestyle and they owe it all to reggae music.
“Reggae music crosses all boundaries, all genres, all different sports and all walks of life,” says Bell. “Everyone can find a message there and everyone can relate to the message and the rhythm of reggae music.”
Bell, being a warm-weather person, is concerned it will be chilly in Aspen but still exclaimed, “The Fire is really excited and looking forward to coming to Aspen.”
John Zelazny is probably the most read music columnist per capita in New Zealand. He appreciates your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.