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Kami - Keepin' It In The Family

Author: Jane Stabler
Monday, 5 November 2007
Hailing from Tonga, six-piece act Kami is a brothers-and-sisters act… but don’t tell anyone. They liken their funk/reggae/hip hop/disco sound to a fruit salad – a whole lot of different flavours that work together to make something delicious. 3D’s Jane Stabler tucks in with Kethey Ross.

In Japanese, Kami translates to mean spirits within objects of the Shinto faith, or it is also sometimes translated to mean ‘god’. Not bad alternate meanings should Tongan band Kami decide to take either on. In actual fact their surname, Kami, lends itself to the name of the group, which may come as a surprise for some considering the band is such a large one.

“We didn’t want to make a big deal of it,” lead vocalist Kethey admits, “but we are all brothers and sisters. One guy actually told us not to tell everyone we’re family. He said they’d think we were like the Von Trapp family!”

‘Von Trapp-esque’ Kami are not. There are no bad ’60s hairdos or outfits for a start. With a style recognised as funky and unique, the group created their now signature sound by merging a range of genres. It’s now best described as an islander fusion of hip hop, reggae, disco and funk. It helped that with such a big group, each member has a different musical preference, which has influenced the sound we hear today. “I think that’s where we’re lucky,” Kethey ponders, “because we all like different types of music – which is good because I think people get sick of the same thing. I like the fact we’re like a fruit salad.”

The group didn’t just look internally to create Kami’s sound. The band also spent a lot of time checking out others on the music scene before creating their own style, and the group still make a point of getting out to see other live acts. “We go around and watch the Australian bands and we love our reggae but its good to step out of that and grow. When we looked around at other bands using funk, it was groovy, and we [realised we] have to go with the flow.”

The influence from other Australian bands was fairly crucial in the final creation of Kami, as the combination of musical genres is something that is not regularly done in their homeland of Tonga. Interestingly, this has resulted in the Aussies taking up their sound with less hesitation. “See, Tongans like reggae,” Kethey explains. “They like their island thing, and they’re really into it. They do like our sound but it’s weird for them. Its new, because we mix it up with live and studio so it was hard for them to accept it. All they listen to is reggae and the island songs [so] for them to hear funk and soul is weird – but they’re coming around!”

Many haven’t needed as much persuading as those in their homeland, and Kami are gaining notoriety for their soulful onstage performances. The six-strong band has spent more and more time on the road recently, touring locally and internationally, and gaining an increasing fan base. They do keep plugging away at home though, and their recent touring has also included performing more regularly back in Tonga. The inclusion of live recordings on their debut album For All You Clowns also reveals their love of playing live, but as with any large family, there are differences of opinion on the matter.

“I prefer to be onstage, I prefer live, even though I get nervous.” Kethey admits, “But the studio makes me more nervous. The producers make me nervous – they’re so serious! But I like to be nervous… I think it’s better than being over-confident. I think half of us prefer the studio, the other half prefer live.”

Live, the band indulges in the audience interaction they are famous for, and one thing this band of siblings does agree on is that the audience needs to get as into it as much as the people on stage. Be warned those who prop up the bar – Kami want to see you on the floor! “It does annoy me [when people just sit there]” Kethey laughs, “My mother said to me that some people like to sit down, but I get annoyed and want them to dance!”

The band’s signature sound makes it hard not to shake your booty, and the group are enjoying increasingly large audience numbers as they continue to take their music on the road. These talented siblings are definitely starting to reap the rewards of their hard work, but Kethey recalls that not everyone was supportive when they started out, which their album title For All You Clowns acknowledged. “As a band we go through a lot of things and the people that put us down are clowns, the people who thought we’d never make it. They are scary clowns too though!”

Scary clowns aside, anyone who questioned Kami’s abilities to succeed have most certainly been proved wrong. It seems their island fusion is hitting the right notes around the world, with fans lapping them up in places like Las Vegas and Hawaii. Closer to home, with their first Basement gig just around the corner, Kami are full of enthusiasm about playing the tracks from their new album and debuting their island fusion originals in a live forum.

But despite having gained a following for their current funky islander sound, the musical surprises from Kami are far from over. Kethey reveals that the band is very much open to exploring new directions and new musical influences. “People say to stick to one sound, but we like variety, so whatever moment we’re in, then we’ll change the sound to suit that. Our sound will change around [for] our next album.”

WHO: Kami
WHAT: For All You Clowns through Subsidiary/MGM / play the Basement
WHEN: Now / Friday 9 November