Beyond an ordinary reggae party band
Katchafire shows versatility on new album and at MACC music fest
Maori reggae stars Katchafire are returning to Maui to headline The MayJah RayJah 2018 Music Festival on Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s A&B Amphitheater in Kahului. The popular New Zealand band is touring with a new album, one of their strongest, most appealing releases in years.
Collaborating with notable Jamaican producers and musicians, “Legacy” captures them at the top of their game, fusing classic roots reggae with influences of R&B, funk, dancehall and pop.
“Years of touring have pushed this band beyond a simple party crew, elevating them to the highest level,” noted New Zealand’s 13th Floor magazine. “Every song on this album is an instant classic.”
“This album showcases how incredibly versatile these guys are,” praised Australia’s Amnplify.
And The Pier Magazine proclaimed: “Katchafire has eyes on cementing their place in reggae music history.”
“We knew we wanted to make some of our best work,” explains Katchafire’s lead vocalist Logan Bell. “We really put our best foot forward on this one. I’m really proud of the boys coming up with another killer album. We always say — ‘All killer, no filler.’ It was a combination of a big effort of producers and engineers all over the world.
“We recorded in Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia and America. I worked in Jimmy Cliff’s studio in Jamaica. It was an amazing experience with Clive Hunt (producer of Peter Tosh, Cliff, the Rolling Stones) and Tuff Gong engineer Roland McDermott (Ziggy, Damian Jr. Gong, and Steven Marley). I want to get back and stuck in on the next record as soon as I can.”
Guest artists on the album include Maui’s Anuhea, who adds her sweet vocals to the soulful track “Aint Gona Give Up.”
“Anuhea’s been a friend for a long time,” Bell says. “She’s amazing — exactly the fit that I was looking for. We have a great rapport and history going back to when she was in the Mana Maoli Collective when they came to New Zealand years ago. She’s the first female to be on a Katchafire track.”
Besides a hot horn section on the album, on some tracks they feature a “vocal” talk box, which was popularized in the 1970s by guitarists Peter Frampton and Joe Walsh.
“It’s sort of a new feature,” he explains. “We had our new guitarist, Wiremu Barriball, play talk box on three tracks. I like it.”
Known for their memorable, chilled reggae songs, highlights abound on the new album — from the irresistible opening “Fyah in the Trenches” and the catchy groove of “Wasted” to the smooth roots of “Living as I.”
“We’ve always been known for our catchy pop sensibility,” he says. “The band is very melodic. We all like similar music. Reggae is our way of life. It’s a serious art form. Reggae gets dismissed as an easy genre to play because it sounds easy, but it’s about how you groove with each other.”
Among the tracks he’s especially fond of, he singles out the slinky ballad “100.”
“It’s about our family and missing them on the road,” he says. “It’s very dear to me, my wife, my mom and my grandmother — all the ladies in my life. Some people have said it makes them cry every time they listen to it.”
“Legacy” closes with the sleek, funky reggae of “Way Beyond,” a moving affirmation of love and family.
“Well beyond man’s creation and what they can do for you,” Bell sings. “Put your trust in luv if it burns then you did no wrong /. . . Most of all, luv all, trust few, and wrong no one.”
For the album’s cover, they picked a classic painting by acclaimed Hawaii artist Herb Kane, “War Canoes of the New Zealand Maori.”
“That was the one that reflected our journey, and here we are in our lives at the moment,” he notes. “I love his research and work.”
Reggae music has been popular in New Zealand ever since Bob Marley performed at Auckland’s Western Springs Stadium in April, 1979.
Named after the Marley album, “Catch a Fire,” Katchafire was a family affair, formed in 2000 by Grenville Bell, father of brothers Logan and Jordan Bell. The trio evolved into a larger ensemble of Maori musicians, and they hit big with their first single release, “Giddy Up,” the top-selling song of 2002 in New Zealand.
Featuring only one cover, the band’s debut album demonstrated their gift for melodic reggae reminiscent of the work of Third World. Since their recording debut, Katchafire has released the popular albums “Revival” and “Slow Burning.”
In 2011 they released their fourth studio album, “On the Road Again,” which was inspired by their worldwide touring, as well as the remix collection “Homegrown Dub.” Their last album, the compilation “Best So Far,” was released in 2013.
“There’s a lot of interest in our brand of South Pacific-island style of reggae everywhere in the world,” says Bell.
The current lineup consists of Logan and Jordan Bell, Leon Davey (vocals, guitars, Percussion), Tere Ngarua (bass) and Barriball (guitar), plus a touring horn section.
Asked why he thinks reggae became so popular around the Pacific and throughout Polynesia, he says: “I think island people are very conscious. We were the only ones on our islands for many years, and we identify with a lot of the plight and messages that these (reggae) greats spoke about. It touched us, and was relevant to our lives. We were fighting to get out of oppression, fighting for our freedom and our land. We respect culture and those that came before, and respect one another as human beings. It spoke to me as a Maori youth. I drew a lot of inspiration and confidence from that to do my own music.”
While they are popular around the world, they have a special fondness for Hawaii.
“I remember the first times we played there,” he enthuses. “Maui has an amazing amount of love for Katchafire, and we are really humbled by that. At the shows at the MACC on Maui, it’s deafening, it’s louder than the Waikiki Shell.”
Super talented one-man band Tavana plays Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. He is joined by friends Barry Flanagan and Eric Gilliom.
This Oahu musician uses electronic drum triggers to lay down a variety of grooves with his feet to accompany himself on guitar, banjo, lap steel and ukulele, while singing soulful, island-inspired rock and blues.
“I perform everything live and use no looping,” he says. “Everything is played moment to moment. It’s like having a whole band in your body and mind, and they can stop and go together on a dime. Every sound comes with its own identity, colors and emotions, creating a much larger palette from which to express myself.”
Tavana has opened for the Alabama Shakes and Xavier Rudd, and he has performed and/or recorded alongside Eddie Vedder and John Cruz. His 2017 album, “Aloha Spirit” was nominated for a Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Best Contemporary Album of the Year.
In 2009, Pearl Jam’s Vedder invited Tavana to sing the anthem “Hawaii 78” with him at the Hawaii Theatre. Their version was later released on a limited vinyl record to Pearl Jam fans.
Tavana just performed at a Kokua Puna benefit concert in Pahoa on a bill with Maui’s Marty Dread; and he will be heard singing “Home” on the new CD, “The Songs of C&K,” the first project of the Henry Kapono Foundation. Other Maui artists singing on the album include Kalani Pe’a and Josh Tatofi.
* Tavana with Flanagan and Gilliom play Charley’s at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $10 at the door, and you must be 21 and older. For more information, call 579-8085 or visit www.charleysmaui.com.
Livingston Taylor, younger brother of James Taylor, will play the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater on Oct. 26. Sounding very much like his famous brother, Taylor’s popular songs include “I Will Be in Love with You” and “I’ll Come Running,” plus “I Can Dream of You” and “Boatman,” performed with James.
His excellent, most recent album, “Safe Home” features mostly originals and covers of “Over the Rainbow” and “Penny Lane.”
“Taylor’s voice has that rich, unique timbre of New England-by-way-of-North-Carolina that he and his brother James have made famous, lending both his vocals and his superb acoustic guitar picking a sense of instant familiarity and comfort,” praised a review.
Tickets are $45 and $65 (plus applicable fees). For tickets or more information, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or go online to www.mauiarts.org.