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Jamiroquai

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Jamiroquai
A band performing on stage; a man wearing a colorful shirt and a white LED head-dress, a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and two female backing vocalists; are all seen with purple stage lighting.
Jamiroquai performing at the Coachella Music Festival in 2018
Background information
OriginLondon, England
Genres
Years active1992–present
Labels
Associated acts
  • Radio Silence
Websitejamiroquai.com
Members
Past membersSee former members

Jamiroquai (/əˈmɪrəkw/ (About this soundlisten)) are an English funk and acid jazz band from London, formed in 1992. Fronted by singer-songwriter Jay Kay, the band were a prominent component of the London-based funk/jazz movement of the 1990s. Influenced by black music of the 1970s, the group additionally drew from rock, electronica and Latin music and their lyrics have dealt with social and environmental idealism. Over the years, Kay has consistently remained as the leader through several line-up changes.

The band debuted with the single "When You Gonna Learn", released on Acid Jazz records, which lead to Kay signing a record deal with Sony Soho2. While with this label, the group released a series of million-selling albums. All eight of the band's albums have entered the UK top 10. Three of them, Emergency on Planet Earth (1993), Synkronized (1999), A Funk Odyssey (2001), along with their greatest hits compilation, charted at number one. The single "Deeper Underground" (1998) also topped in the UK chart.

Although Jamiroquai had only moderate success in America, they have sold more than 26 million albums worldwide as of 2017. Their third album, Travelling Without Moving (1996), received a Guinness World Record for the best-selling funk album in history. The music video for its lead single, "Virtual Insanity", was named Video of the Year at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards.

History[edit]

1991–1992: Formation[edit]

The band's "Buffalo Man"[1] logo, took inspiration from Native American culture.[2]

In 1986, Jason "Jay" Kay, who worked as a break-dancer, released a hip-hop single under the label StreetSounds.[3] It was one of many songs he sent to record companies.[2] During this time, Kay was influenced by Native American and First Nation peoples and their philosophies and wrote "When You Gonna Learn", a song covering social issues.[2][4] When he had it studio-recorded, Kay fought with the producers who stripped the song down and produced it based on mainstream trends.[2] With the track restored to his preference, the experience helped Kay to realise he "wanted a proper live band with a proper live sound."[2] The band would be named "Jamiroquai", a portmanteau of the words "jam" and the name of a Native American confederacy, the Iroquois.[4] He was signed to Acid Jazz Records in 1991 after he sent a demo tape of himself covering a song by the Brand New Heavies.[5][6][a] Afterwards, he gradually gathered band members, including friend Wallis Buchanan who played the didgeridoo.[2] Keyboardist Toby Smith, who Kay initially rejected, was scouted by the band manager and joined as Kay's songwriting partner. Their first song as collaborators was the anti-war song "Too Young to Die".[2][8] In 1992, Jamiroquai began their career by performing in the British club scene,[9] and released "When You Gonna Learn" as their debut single, charting outside the UK Top 50.[10] The next year, Stuart Zender became the band's bassist by audition.[11][12]

1993–2000: International breakthrough[edit]

Following the success of "When You Gonna Learn", Kay was offered multiple major-label contracts and settled for a one-million-dollar, 8-album record deal with Sony Soho2.[8][10][13] He was the only member who signed under the contract as Jamiroquai,[13][14] but he would share his royalties with his band members in accordance to their contributions.[13] Under Sony, the band released their début album, Emergency on Planet Earth, and it entered the UK albums chart at number 1 with 1.3 million copies sold worldwide.[15][16] It was described by an AllMusic reviewer as "a psychedelic melange of tight funky rhythms, acid rock intimations, and '70s soul melodies."[17] The album "laid the foundations for an acid-jazz sound that the band would continue to build upon for the next decade and a half", according to a critic for BBC Music.[15] With the album having an ecologically charged concept,[17][18] the music video for "When You Gonna Learn" was banned in America for using footage of a Nazi party.[19]

"A man wearing a grey beanie, a dark shirt and a cannabis necklace; singing into a microphone below perspective"
Jay Kay performing with Jamiroquai in the mid-1990s

The band's drummer, Nick van Gelder, was absent for longer than expected, and he was replaced by Derrick McKenzie, who recorded with the group in one take for his audition.[20] While writing songs for the group's second album The Return of the Space Cowboy, Kay fell into a creative block worsened by his increasing drug use at the time.[20][21] And the complex nature of the production and songwriting caused Sony to tell Jamiroquai that "none of [the songs] sounded like singles".[20] The band soon found their turning point when they wrote the lead single "Space Cowboy",[20] released in September 1994 and becoming the group's first number 1 in the US Dance Club Songs Chart.[22] The Return of the Space Cowboy was issued a month later and ranked at number 2 in the UK chart.[23] A Rolling Stone reviewer described the group "[parlaying] jazzy soul pop so tight, it crackles."[24] The instrumentation of the album was said to be "played by humans, not samplers", according to Josef Woodard from Entertainment Weekly.[25] In a 1996 report by Billboard, The Return of the Space Cowboy sold 1.3 million copies worldwide.[26]

Released in 1996, Travelling Without Moving reached number 24 in the Billboard 200[27] and peaked at number 2 in the UK albums chart; selling 8 million copies overall.[28][29] It listed in the Guinness World Records as the best-selling funk album in history.[30] Containing symphonic and jungle elements,[31] Kay aimed for an accessible sound unlike the previous record.[32] A review from Q magazine stated that Travelling Without Moving is "tighter and more compact in its production",[33] while critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine commented that it did not have "the uniform consistency of its predecessor."[34] The album's lead single "Virtual Insanity" gained popularity for its music video, where it heavily played on MTV,[35] and won two Video Music Awards for Breakthrough Video and Video of the Year in 1997.[36]

The group were preparing their fourth album, Synkronized (1999), in Kay's Chillington studio complex, built in his Buckinghamshire country house.[37] During its production, Zender left Jamiroquai due to conflicts with Kay.[38] While Zender had not been involved in the album's songwriting, the group chose to scrap his recorded tracks to avoid lawsuits and Nick Fyffe was recruited for new sessions.[13][38] This resulted in what journalist Lisa Markwell thought was a "tighter, more angry collection of songs" for Synkronized,[13] while Prasad Bidaye of Exclaim! commented that tracks such as "'Canned Heat,' 'Planet Home' and 'Where Do We Go From Here?' sound more like hi-NRG and house than acid jazz, while slower tempos on 'Falling' and 'Butterfly' ease the pressure for [Kay's] more romantic musings."[39] The 1998 single titled, "Deeper Underground" was listed in the Godzilla soundtrack and was their first and only UK number 1.[29] Synkronized sold 3 million copies and ranked number 1 in the UK albums chart and number 28 in the US Billboard 200.[29][40]

2001–2016: A Funk OdysseyRock Dust Light Star[edit]

A band performing on stage; a male singer wearing a head-dress, along with a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist and three female vocalists
Jamiroquai performing at the Congress Theater in Chicago in 2005

The group issued their 2001 follow-up, A Funk Odyssey, a primarily disco record that explored rock and Latin music influences.[41][42][43] It introduced guitarist Rob Harris, who helped write tracks such as "Corner of the Earth", while Smith left the band in the following year.[43][44] The album topped in the UK, and reached number 44 in the US Billboard 200.[45] A Funk Odyssey was released to generally mixed reviews,[46] with a Billboard magazine reviewer stating that the group "continues to mine a musical playing field that pays homage to [...] Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and Chic",[47] and Mojo writing that the album "[succumbs] to unambitious disco stylings."[48]

Their sixth album, Dynamite, was released in 2005, and reached number 3 in the UK,[49] and number 2 in the US Dance/Electronics Album chart.[45] It was produced by Mike Spencer and was recorded in various locations in Europe and the US.[50] Rashod D. Ollison of The Baltimore Sun wrote that the album "boasts a harder digital edge... With heavier beats, manipulated guitar lines and odd digital textures, Dynamite is less organic than Jamiroquai's other efforts."[51] Its tracks "Feels Just Like It Should" and "Love Blind" were characterised as "[having] a fatter, dirtier sound than usual".[52] In 2006, the group announced their switch to Columbia Records.[53] A greatest hits collection, High Times: Singles 1992–2006, was issued in the same year and marked the end of Kay's contract with Sony.[54] It topped the UK album chart after its first week of release.[40] The following year, Jamiroquai performed in the Gig in the Sky, a concert held on a private Boeing 757 in association with Sony Ericsson.[55] The group thus currently holds the Guinness World Record for "fastest concert", performed on the aircraft whilst travelling at 1017 km/h (632 mph).[56]

A band performing on stage; a male singer wearing an indigenous head-dress, along with a saxophone player and a bassist.
Jamiroquai performing in Warsaw, Poland, June 2011

Rock Dust Light Star was released in 2010 under Mercury Records, described by Kay himself as a "a real band record" that "[captures] the flow of our live performances".[57] Matt Collar commented in an AllMusic review that the group were "heading back to [their] rock and organic soul roots",[58] with a sound The Telegraph termed as "Californian Seventies funk rock".[59] It ranked number 7 in the UK with 34,378 copies sold.[60][61] The following year also saw members Harris, Johnson, and Turner forming the sub-group Radio Silence, with their album Travelogue.[62][63]

2017–present: Automaton[edit]

Jamiroquai released Automaton in 2017, their eighth studio album and the first in seven years. It was produced by Kay and band keyboardist Matt Johnson, and "has a heavy electronica influence, featuring retro synths, icy arpeggiated melodies, stompy house beats and bubbling basslines", according to a review from The New Zealand Herald.[64] It reached number 4 in the UK and topped the US Dance/Electronic Albums chart.[65][45] By 2017, the group's line-up consisted of Kay, Harris, McKenzie, Johnson, Paul Turner on bass guitar, and percussionist Sola Akingbola.[66]

Artistry[edit]

Musical style and influences[edit]

Jamiroquai is generally termed as acid-jazz,[67] funk,[68] disco,[69] soul,[18] house,[70] and R&B.[31] Their sound has been described by J.D. Considine as having an "anything-goes attitude, an approach that leaves the band open to anything".[71] According to Michael Mehle of Rocky Mountain News, "When the band formed in 1992, the group chose to emphasize real instruments with a big band rather than techno-gilded dance music that required antiseptic computers and synthesizers on stage",[38] although their later work utilise electronic sounds.[51][64][72] Jay Kay is the primary songwriter of Jamiroquai. Despite his lack of ability to play musical instruments, he sang melodies and beats for band members to transcribe to their instrumentation.[2] Toby Smith's keyboard arrangements were described as "psychedelic and soulful",[39] while Stuart Zender's bass playing was compared to the work of Marcus Miller.[73] Wallis Buchanan on didgeridoo was also praised.[71][74] When asked about how the group maintained their success, Kay said, "by not worrying about staying relevant... Jamiroquai never really fitted into a trendy genre or anything."[75]

Kay was influenced by Roy Ayers, Herbie Hancock, Lou Donaldson, Grant Green,[31] Sly Stone, Gil Scott-Heron,[3] and hip-hop and its culture.[18] A 2003 compilation titled Late Night Tales: Jamiroquai under Azuli Records, also contains a selection of some of the band's late 1970s R&B, disco and quiet storm influences.[76] While Jamiroquai and Kay's vocals have drawn comparisons to Stevie Wonder,[13][77] some critics accused the band of copying other artists.[13][78] Kay denies being influenced by Wonder,[21] and has complained about being compared to other artists.[79] In contrast, Kay expressed his desire to maintain the group's distinctive sound whilst referencing his influences: "If you just sample Barry White or Sly Stone, that’s one thing; to get their spirit is different."[31]

Lyrics[edit]

Virtual Insanity… was a very prescient song I wrote and things like Dolly the Sheep happened right after. I think the ideas in that song are maybe even more relevant today than they were back then.

—Kay speaking about the track in regard to the group's social topics, 2013[75]

Jamiroquai's lyrics have occasionally dealt with socially idealistic themes. Emergency on Planet Earth (1993) revolved around environmental awareness,[17][18] while The Return of the Space Cowboy (1994) contains themes of homelessness, Native American rights, youth protests, and slavery.[20][80][18] The songs "Black Crow" and "Twenty Zero One" from 2001's A Funk Odyssey, respectively "laments the absence of spirituality in modern culture" and discussed the "dehumanizing effects of technology."[81] According to Richard Driver of PopMatters, the lyrics of Automaton (2017) allude to "dystopian films and the limitations of relationships built in a digital landscape".[82]

However, critics have said that the band had strayed from these beliefs, and focused on "having fun" rather than social justice,[43] and Kay's that interest in sports cars contradict his earlier beliefs.[1][13][3] Kay said in an interview with Muzik, that he was reluctant to release Travelling Without Moving (1996) as it adopted a motorcar concept,[b] but added: "just because I love to drive a fast car, that doesn't mean I believe in [destroying the environment.]"[83] In an 1999 interview he said that "after a while you realise that people won't boogie and dance to [politics]."[13]

Stage and visuals[edit]

Front-man Jay Kay has worn elaborate head-dresses.

Kay said that the prefers playing live to studio work.[8] Robert Hilburn of The Los Angeles Times wrote in 1997 that "Kay himself brings a winning sense of individuality to his concerts, where he combines moves as fluid as Prince’s with a disarming sense of humor."[78] Chauncey Hollingsworth of the Chicago Tribune said in a 1995 concert review that "his ease in movement and vocal endurance was like a martial artist's."[84] In the same year, Lorraine Ali found the band entertaining and praised Kay's "Motown-esque voice", she wrote that "the music lacked any spark of uniqueness."[85]

Kay stated that the group's visual aesthetics are important. He assumes creative control over the group's music videos, such as editing, performing his own stunts and ensuring that they all "[look] good after 10–15 years".[86] Called "icons of the music-video format" by Spencer Kornhaber from The Atlantic,[87] the group are especially known for their music video of "Virtual Insanity", directed by Jonathan Glazer. In the video, Kay: "performed in a room where the floors, walls and furniture all moved simultaneously."[88]

Jay Kay has worn various elaborate head-gear,[87] some he designed himself.[78][77] In a 1993 interview with Melody Maker, he said the head-gear gives him a spiritual power described by the Iroquois as "orenda".[8] The illuminating helmet that appears in "Automaton" music video was designed by Moritz Waldemeyer for Kay to control its lights and movements and to portray him as "an endangered species".[89] He had been accused of cultural appropriation when he wore Native American head-dresses.[90][91]

Legacy[edit]

Miraculously, Jamiroquai managed to survive the acid-jazz crash of the early 90's, when kids traded mellow sounds like the Brand New Heavies, Young Disciples and Guru for the bed-of-nails wails of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.

Paper, 1997[1]

As a prominent component within the London-based funk/acid-jazz movement of the 1990s,[3] Writer Kenneth Prouty said that "few acid jazz groups have reached the level of visibility in the pop music mainstream as London born Jamiroquai."[35] The success of the 1996 single "Virtual Insanity" led to "[the climax of] 1970s soul and funk that early acid jazz artists had initiated."[35] The band were also credited for popularising the didgeridoo.[92] Alex Young of Consequence of Sound argued that the departure of Stuart Zender changed the band's musical direction of "creating propulsive collections of [long] tunes, [and] speaking out against injustice".[81] Over time, gaps between their album releases increased as Kay himself stated in 2013: "I will only put out an album now when I am inspired to do so."[75][93] Jake Indiana from Highsnobiety said that they "could have lived very comfortably going the route of a ’90s nostalgia band, enjoying the ride of their past success", but concluded that they have "[shown] no signs of fading in their ability to weave sonic wonder."[86] According to Ian Gittins of The Guardian, "Jamiroquai have long been shunned by music's tastemakers for a perceived naffness, and have shown their utter disregard for this critical snobbery by getting bigger and bigger."[94] Some reviewers commented that apart having radio-friendly singles, they deemed the rest of the band's material as being either generic or identical.[91][95][96]

Jamiroquai were the third best-selling UK act of the 1990s[3] after the Spice Girls and Oasis. As of February 2017, they have sold more than 26 million albums worldwide.[60][97] Despite finding popularity in the UK with high-charting albums, the band could not maintain their relevance in the United States.[93] They sold 4.4 million albums in the UK and had US sales of 2.5 million copies sold as of 2010.[54][98] The group has had three number one albums in the UK, and three albums that entered the Billboard 200 chart in the US.[40]

Front-man Kay was given a BMI Presidents Award, "in recognition of his profound influence on songwriting within the music industry."[99] Artists who mention the group as an influence include Tyler, the Creator,[100] Chance the Rapper,[101] SZA,[102] Kamaal Williams,[103] Syd,[104] and Calvin Harris,[105] who had remixed a number of the band's songs.[106]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Discography[edit]

Members[edit]

Current members
  • Jay Kay – lead vocals (1992–present)
  • Derrick McKenzie – drums (1994–present[20])
  • Sola Akingbola – percussion
  • Rob Harris – guitar
  • Matt Johnson – keyboards
  • Paul Turner – bass
  • Nate Williams – keyboards, guitar, backing vocals (2017–present)[107]
Former members

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Brand New Heavies denied rumours that Kay was rejected in an audition to become a singer for their band.[7]
  2. ^ The album cover recreates the Ferrari logo with the band's "Buffalo Man" logo.[1]

References[edit]

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