The Cat Empire is not actually an empire consisting of cats. Despite sounding like one, it is not a country made up cats, governed by cats, protected by an army of cats and so on.
The Cat Empire is a band. They are a band who recently released a new album, Steal the Light. They sound like a less Mexican version of Ozomatli. A guy who is a pseudo-expert on the Beatles told me about them.
That is frankly all I know about The Cat Empire.
So I did some research.
First, on Wikipedia.
The Cat Empire are an Australian ska and jazz band formed in 1999. Core members are Felix Riebl (percussion and vocals), Harry James Angus (trumpet and vocals), Will Hull-Brown (drums), Jamshid “Jumps” Khadiwhala (decks, percussion), Ollie McGill (keyboard and backing vocals), and Ryan Monro (bass and backing vocals). They are often supplemented by The Empire Horns, a brass duo composed of Ross Irwin (trumpet) and Kieran Conrau (trombone), and have recurring guest musicians.
The Cat Empire’s origins are traced back to Jazz Cat, a Melbourne-based band, led by Steve Sedergreen in 1999. Jazz Cat was a nine-piece group from different schools and backgrounds which debuted at the Manly Jazz Festival in Sydney. They gigged around Melbourne’s jazz club scene including at Dizzy’s (Sedergreen was a part-owner). Late that year, Jazz Cat spawned The Cat Empire, originally as a three-piece, with Ollie McGill on keyboards, Felix Riebl on percussion and vocals and Ryan Monro on double bass. The band’s name was taken from the title of a drawing by Riebl’s younger brother, Max, and its distinctive cat’s eye icon, known as “Pablo“, was created by Ian McGill, Ollie McGill’s father.
Now knowing more about the band, I wanted to learn more about their sound.
From their website:
“The musical landscape, while certainly a vast and complex one, strewn with pebbles, boulders, monoliths and mountains, is generally a well-ordered place. Bands stay within their borders, and the music matches the hair, and everybody knows what tribe you belong to. But every now and then, a band has to ask themselves, ‘Who am I?’ The Cat Empire have been asking themselves this question for over a decade. But when your whole musical concept is about transcending genre, and when a large portion of your performance is constructed out of pure improvised energy, it can be hard to know what to call the music you are creating.
In the early years, and after their first major release (The Cat Empire, 2003), the band found themselves, more often than not, being reduced to a series of slashes. The jazz/reggae/funk/latin/gypsy/hip hop tag grew longer and longer, but it was an apt description.
For over a decade now, and through various recordings, The Cat Empire have carved themselves out a unique place in the musical firmament, as a band with no guitars, with no easily definable style and no corresponding haircut, but a band that can step onto any stage in the world and make the crowd move.
But the question of what to call their music is as difficult to answer today as it was ten years ago. The long line of slashes just doesn’t cut it anymore, and the music has grown out of its ‘multi-genre’ concept into something wilder, a spontaneous explosion of melody and rhythm that contains many flavours, but is undeniably a new country. But clearly, as always, this music is for dancing. The rhythm is front and centre, a beat that belongs to no single nation.
There will never be a single word to identify this music, but the essence has been there all along. If you go back to the very beginnings of the band, on an early demo, it is there in the lyrics to “The Night That Never End”:
Oh how the gods look down and frown
At those who never stood and said
‘My name is no-one’
And went a little mad….”
– by Harry Angus, trumpeter/vocalist
Recap: the band is from Australia. They play a lively style of music that defies description, but if pressed, the styles most closely related to that of The Cat Empire are latin, jazz, ska, reggae and funk. They sound like the Australian cousins of Ozomatli.
You can check out their latest album, Steal the Light, HERE.
Here is the video for the title track from Steal the Light: