Reggae is one of the bloodlines of New Zealand music -- which accounts for the extraordinary success of Hamilton’s Katchafire who, two years ago, emerged as the hardest working band in the country. Their astonishing debut album, the prophetically named Revival, sold in excess of 30,000 copies (double platinum) and they scored massive hits with songs like Giddy Up, the biggest selling single of 2002. Katchafire had tapped into that bloodline of New Zealand and people, being reacquainted with what they had lost, loved it all over again. Katchafire’s music was uplifting and celebratory, and their gigs were joyous singalong affairs where people of all cultures and affiliations were welcomed.
Their audiences are still the most cross-cultural, cross-generational in the country. Katchafire were, and remain, unique in New Zealand music. They are a viable, touring eight-piece band which can work the length of the country without exhausting the place. They can return to a venue they played just a few months before and pack it out all over again. That is rare for any band. The success of the band was evident in album sales, opening shows for the likes of Michael Franti and Spearhead, gigs all across the country (three in one day on Waitangi Day 2004, in Hamilton, Manukau and Nelson), three tours to Australia and New Caledonia, and most recently a stadium-filling headlining show in Fiji.
And now they are stepping up again with a cracking new album Slow-Burning which shows them reaching a new level. From the terrific cover slip -- a cheeky homage to the classic Bob Marley album sleeve from which the band took its name -- to the eleven diverse tracks within Slow-Burning is a leap forward, both musically and lyrically. The title is again appropriate; you will feel the fire from this for a long time to come. Produced by Chris Macro (of Dubious Brothers) and with international guests, this is a new level of consciousness music from Katchafire which moves effortlessly from classic JA-sounding roots-reggae to material which could be located nowhere else other than in Aotearoa: when they say “don’t frisk me down because of my brown skin” they also bring dignity to bear, “we must hold our head up high”. The deeply felt and fiery I And I stands proudly in the local lineage of politicised reggae that was kick-started by Herbs. More than on their debut they pull in threads of dub and toasting, there are musical references to the sound of classic Trojan records (Close Your Eyes, Hey Girl Version) but, courtesy of the French horn section Mister Gang whom they met in New Caledonia, you can also hear echoes of DD Smash-styled pop.
And on Rude Girl, with toasting by Tuff Enchant, the band open with a tricky rhythm and a nod to the music of Cuba. However Katchafire haven’t sacrificed their pop sensibilities and songs like Hey Girl, I Got Ya Back and Close Your Eyes should be all over radio this, and every, summer. With Slow-Burning, Katchafire have fulfilled the promise of their debut that here was a band schooled in roots reggae, which has honed its professionalism on the road, and has within its ranks songwriters who can take their place alongside the best Aotearoa has had to offer. Katchafire shows are always celebratory affairs and with Slow-Burning the band have even more to be joyous to be about. Be prepared to celebrate with them.