If you want to hear classic reggae in the throwback style of Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, you might be better off bypassing Jamaica and seeking out a different island nation much farther away: New Zealand.
So many bands play a variation on the rootsy Caribbean rhythm that it has become its own subgenre, Kiwi reggae. Some acts, such as Fat Freddys Drop and the Black Seeds, hew close to reggae traditionalism while others, like Salmonella Dub, Pitch Black and Shapeshifter, incorporate elements of electronica.
These acts have hit records at home and an underground global audience no surprise, much of it based in reggae strongholds like California and the U.K. but rarely visit the Lone Star State. That changes Friday when one of the most popular bands in the genre, Katchafire, headlines Fort Worths recently refurbished Ridglea Theater.
The septet is on a national tour which includes stops in Houston, Corpus Christi and Austin pushing a just-released greatest hits package, Best So Far. The 16-track collection is a solid introduction to the groups melodic, horn-punctuated, harmony-rich twist on reggae, with songs such as the sweetly soulful Say What Youre Thinking, the jazzy Get Away or the lovers rock of Seriously.
To the uninitiated, its all a bit confusing. Why would a country like New Zealand nearly 8,000 miles southwest of Jamaica with a small number of people of African descent embrace reggae so warmly?
For that, NZ can thank its large Polynesian population. Roughly 12 percent of the countrys nearly 4 million people are Polynesians and Pacific Islanders, who have a history of appreciation for reggae going back to the 70s. In Hawaii, the local variant became so popular that its known as Jawaiian music. (Its no accident that Katchafires opening act at the Ridglea, Maoli, is from Maui.)
Maybe its because residents of Jamaica and the Pacific islands share an appreciation for laid-back beach living not to mention the ability to relate to the political/social/religious aspects of Rastafarian culture.
But why should anyone else care? Because the Kiwis have kept it defiantly old school. While much of the music of the Caribbean has now merged with contemporary hip-hop, Kiwi reggae works within the style popularized by pioneer Bob Marley. Yet they make it their own, often with the use of harmonies, a hallmark of Polynesian music.
The result is a thoroughly intoxicating blend that feels very different from the more uptempo, urban, dancehall-influenced rhythms that have been coming out of the Caribbean in the past decade such as Sean Pauls Gimme the Light that became hits in the U.S.
Kiwi reggae is like a ray of island sunshine.
So, in landlocked North Texas, Katchafires visit is a real and rare treat. If you cant afford to wing your way to the South Pacific for a holiday, this show should be the next best thing.