Katchafire - Lighting The Reggae Flame
Author: Rebecca Thomson (photography by Vanessa Bidois)
Waikato’s eight-piece reggae disciples Katchafire are definitely smoking. ‘Slow-Burning’, their second album, went platinum on Valentines Day this year, just 10 weeks after its release and has now been resident in the Top 40 for four months. Their debut album ‘Revival’ similarly took just a few weeks to reach gold - and has gone on to better double-platinum, over 30,000 copies sold.
Softly spoken guitarist and lead singer Logan Bell is more modest than he needs to be, saying they’re "pretty pleased" about the achievement. He says it makes them feel "special" that so may people love their music.
"The boys are really blessed to have that happen to us. We never imaged it could happen - no way! We just do what we do because we love it."
The Katchafire story grew from family roots. Guitarist Grenville Bell started the band with sons Logan and drummer Jordan. Later Ara Adams-Tamatea (bass/band manager), Jamey Fergusson (keys/sax/guitar), Haanai Totorewa (keyboard/guitar), Thompson Hohepa (guitar) and percussionist Leon Davey joined the band to complete the successful blend.
They have been around since 1998 playing Bob Marley-inspired reggae - first covers then their own songs, though commercial airplay was some time coming.
During the early years knowledge of their enormous reggae-talent and four-hour pub sets passed on largely through word-of-mouth. In 2002, they hit the airwaves with their single Giddy Up, which turned out to be an unexpected runaway success - the biggest-selling single in 2002. Their debut album ‘Revival’ followed in 2003.
Phase Four funding from NZ On Air helped Katchafire put together the much-anticipated ‘Slow-Burning’, which was released on Mai Music (distributed by Shock Records) late last year. The funding enabled them to take more time (five months from start to finish) and care with the album than initially planned and the result is a wonderful mish mash of old school reggae and Pacifika grooves.
Mai Music’s Chris Macro worked his magic in the studio once again and gets both production and mixing credits though Logan, Jordan and Jamey were this time heavily involved. Recording was done at Wintec (Waikato Polytechnic) studio in Hamilton and the mixing at Mark Wirepa’s Bronzewing Studio in Auckland. Mastering was by Chris Macro at York Street Studios.
Even before the second album was released, the boys were busy on the road, playing and promoting their new tunes.
Often touted as being one of New Zealand’s busiest bands and it Katchafire indeed set themselves a gruelling touring schedule, with more than 20 gigs here and in Australia between the beginning of April and the end of June. As Logan says they’ve played more gigs and been on the road for more days than he can count.
"It’s crazy and it’s doubling every year. Last summer was three or four times busier than what we’ve done before, and it’s just seems to go faster and faster every year. But we make time to come home to our families. I think if you tour back-to-back for too long I think you can get into trouble."
Katchafire’s summer schedule included a pre-Christmas trip to Fiji for the first time - an experience that was "amazing" according to Logan.
"We didn’t quite expect the reception we got when we landed in Fiji. At the airport there were 400 or 500 people waiting - which I’m sure in Fijian population terms is quite a lot of people! On the drive between the airport and the hotel there must have been three [Katchafire] songs on Fiji radio - every third or fourth song was a Katchafire song and we only had one album out at that time!"
Both of their Fiji gigs, in Suva and Nadi, sold out. Such was Katchafire’s popularity in the Pacific nation, news and reviews of their gigs made it on to page two of Fiji’s Sunday Times. One fan was quoted as saying: "The band is an inspiration to us because they are from a neighbouring country... just see what they have managed to achieve through singing reggae."