Katchafire – Legacy (Zojak Worldwide)

As I fight the freezing winter rain, there’s a summer party raging inside my headphones. That’s because Katchafire, Aotearoa’s favourite reggae act, is back with what I believe is their best album yet.

In earlier times, this cherished multi-generational act made music that paid homage to their idols, notably the Marley family, smatterings of Cliff, Tosh et al.  However, endless touring abroad and supporting acts like Michael Franti, Spearhead, Steel Pulse and UB40 seem to have opened up their creative faucets and now everything is flowing freely.

Right from the get-go, I was impressed by the super tight funky grooves of Fyah In The Trenches, followed by the sweet swagger on the single Love Today.  Singer Jordan Bell croons at times like a young Shaggy, backed up by some honey’n’soul backing vocals from his bandmates.  This is a combination that keeps coming through on every track. That couldn’t be tastier than the romantic 70’s number Wasted (on your love, that is).  This is the one slow track on a pretty high energy set, guaranteed to get the whanau up and on the dance floor!

However, these tunes are not just the work of the band.  On their 5th release, they’ve brought in a cast of thousands, including USA’s Tony Peebles, Japan’s Stephen ‘Dubklaat’ Mazwell and our own Johnny Chong Nee to add extra colours to the tracks.  Actually, there are over 20 ‘guest stars’ adding instrumentations, vocals and lyrics to this project.  I’m not sure who gets the credit for that velvet smooth sax on I Can Feel It but it’s worth the price of admission alone.

And if the slow, melancholic soul is what your after, 100, a song about touring and missing family, is a perfect choice.  This is the one that reminds you, more than ever that the themes of whanau and aroma on this album are paramount markers here.

The boys from H-Town cut these tracks over a long period, in between their various travels so you get a real variety here.  It’s a bit like those destination stickers you see on old suitcases.  Walk With Me is all about the ska, while One More Day is a beautifully jazzy number; and Addicted is pure Ali Campbell all the way.  But the best track is Way Beyond, which features band member Wiremu Barriball’s ultra-slick guitar work and talk box work.  The latter instrument was a favourite of Peter Frampton on Do You Feel Like We Do, and this ‘toy’ still works a treat on this tune as well lifting it to a cosmic level.  Barriball also produced the awesome album art in collaboration with Hawaiian artist Herb Kane.

Katchafire’s latest album goes way beyond simple BBQ music and ‘Maori’ strums.  Not that I’m knocking that.  But what I’m saying is that the musicianship and stunning playing on this album are so superb.  Years of touring have pushed this band beyond a simple party crew elevating them to the highest level.  Every song on this album is an instant classic.  This band is and will continue to be revered taonga.

The album dropped on 1 June on all the usual platforms.

Tim Gruar