When I told my trance-loving, bass-banging friends I was checking out some New Zealand reggae, they laughed, then looked confused then communally said ‘oh…really?’ I’m not exactly a person you’d pick for the scene but I love what I’ve heard of it so far. I was introduced to Katchafire by an old work friend who forced me to listen to hours and hours of reggae, dub and Aussie hip hop. Although I didn’t like all the music he played in the background as we made coffee, Katchafire was one that I loved from the first moment I heard the rhythmic beats of ‘Reggae Revival’ bursting out of the speakers.
Katchafire co-headlined with the Open Souls, a New Zealand act I wasn’t familiar with. We walked into the Forum at about 9:30, having thrown down a few cocktails, beers and bready-snacks at the surrounding pubs. The Open Souls had already begun and there was fairly full crowd on the main floor having a chat and a quiet dance. The lead singer had beautiful alto voice, very sensuous coupled with jazz beats and tones. They put on a nice warm-up show that got everyone relaxed and ready for the main act of the night.
Katchafire began at about 11pm, slowing down ‘Colour Me Life’ to prep the crowd and start up the show gently. They played for about 1 and a half hours, pulling tracks from all their discography including much-loved songs ‘Say What You’re Thinking’, ‘Seriously’, ‘Mr Flava’ and ‘Who You With’. As soon as the band appeared, the crowd became much more lively, with plenty of people dancing in the sensual, unabashed way that goes so well with reggae. ‘Sensimilia’ was a particular highlight, everyone knowing the words, the rhythms, and the band interacting beautifully with their attentive audience. The saxaphonist was brilliant, rousing a cheer whenever he played a memorable solo. Unfortunately where we standing, it was difficult to see the lead guitarist work his instrumentals but everything we heard was just heaven. There’s really nothing reggae, with all its soul and unashamed vigour. Not much music can claim to be so wholly positive as reggae. Some of this positive energy, however, was dampened by a fight breaking out near the front of the crowd between a group of young women. The lead singer of Katchafire, seeing this brawl, yelled at the end of the song ‘cut that shit out!’ at which point everyone responded with a resounding ‘yeah!’
The crowd reached its highest pitch when the opening strums of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ were heard. If you looked among the audience, almost every person on that floor new the words to this song. Any inhibitions people may have had were completely lost at this point. You didn’t have to be minor fan of reggae to know even a few lyrics from this legend. Even though I’ve never been a fan of Bob Marley covers, its truly something to see such a large crowd singing these lines unanimously and so joyfully. I think its the closest I’ll ever get to the father of reggae myself and I have to tell you, it was pretty amazing for me.
Katchafire was more than I imagined it would be. Among all the electro, trance and minimal I’d been experiencing over the past few months, I’d forgotten how great it can be listen to a live band, with saxophone, drums and a damn smooth voice to front it all.