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Jamiroquai (/əˈmɪrkw/ (About this soundlisten)) are an English funk and acid jazz band from London, formed in 1992. Fronted by singer-songwriter Jay Kay, the band is best known for the song "Canned Heat" (1999), featured in Napoleon Dynamite, and for the iconic music video for the 1996 single "Virtual Insanity" which was named Video of the Year at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. Their 1998 single, "Deeper Underground", reached number one in the UK. All eight of the band's albums have entered the UK top 10. Three of them, along with their greatest hits compilation, charted at number 1.

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
Years active1992–present
Associated acts
Past membersSee former members

The band débuted with "When You Gonna Learn" under Acid Jazz records, which led to Kay signing a record deal with Sony Soho2. While under this label, the group released a string of million-selling albums containing singles that have entered various charts worldwide, while having moderate success in the US in the Dance Club Songs chart. Over the years, Kay has consistently remained as the leader through several line-up changes.

With their sound influenced by black music, the group were one of the most prominent components in the London-based funk/acid jazz movement. They also drew from rock, electronica and Latin music, and have used live instrumentation over electronics. Their lyrics and visual concepts occasionally deal with social and environmental idealism. Although Kay had maintained these values, journalists have critiqued his lyrical motives on the group's more accessible material.

Jamiroquai 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 group has won an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors, as well as one Grammy Award, two MTV Video Music Awards and two Billboard Music Awards. They have also received sixteen Brit Award nominations.


1991–1992: FormationEdit

The band's script and "Buffalo Man"[1] logo, designed by Kay[2]

Jason "Jay" Kay, a nightclub worker,[3] began his musical career by writing songs to send to record companies.[4] Among them was "When You Gonna Learn", a song covering a variety of social issues.[5] It was first studio recorded in the Round House in Camden.[4] The producers of this session stripped the song down and produced it based on mainstream trends. Kay disliked the results and had the track restored to his preference after a dispute.[4] He was then signed to Acid Jazz Records in 1991 after he sent a demo tape of himself covering a song by the Brand New Heavies.[6][7] Afterwards, he gradually gathered band members, including his friend Wallis Buchanan who played the didgeridoo.[4] Kay was encouraged by his manager to enlist keyboardist Toby Smith, but he was not convinced because Smith "had a tendency to play these very ravey[,] acid housey chords."[4] After the group performed as support act for the Brand New Heavies, Kay again met Smith, who persuaded Kay to let him join as the group's co-songwriter and keyboardist. Their first collaboration as songwriters was the anti-war song "Too Young to Die".[4][8]

Being the front-man, Kay is occasionally referred to as the group name, because he is the only person under contract with a record company as the artist name of Jamiroquai.[9] The band name is an interlock of the words, "jam" and "iroquai"; the latter is based on the Iroquois, a Native American confederacy.[5] It was widely talked about that the group's formation was a result of Kay's failed audition to become a singer for the Brand New Heavies, but these rumours were denied by them.[10]

1992–1999: International breakthroughEdit

In 1992, Jamiroquai began their career by performing in the British club scene,[11] and released "When You Gonna Learn" as their debut single, which entered the UK chart at number 52.[12] It featured Brand New Heavies bassist Andrew Levy, who was replaced by Stuart Zender by audition in the following year.[13][14][15] Following the success of the "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.[16][8][17] He was the only member who signed under the contract, but would share his royalties with his band members in accordance to their contributions.[17] 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.[18][19] It was described by an AllMusic reviewer as "a psychedelic melange of tight funky rhythms, acid rock intimations, and '70s soul melodies."[20] 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.[18] With the album having an ecologically charged concept,[20][21] the music video for "When You Gonna Learn" was banned in America for using footage of a Nazi party.[22] The album's second single, "Too Young to Die" entered the UK singles chart at number 15.[23]

Jay Kay performing with Jamiroquai in the mid-1990s

Jamiroquai's original drummer Nick van Gelder was absent from the group for longer than expected, and was replaced by Derrick McKenzie, who recorded with the band in one take for his audition.[24] The group began writing songs for their second album The Return of the Space Cowboy, but Kay fell into a creative block which was worsened by his increasing drug use,[24][25] and the initially complex nature of the album caused Sony to tell the band that "none of [the songs] sounded like singles".[24] The band's turning point came with the album's eponymous single,[24] which was released in September 1994 and sold 114,000 copies and was the group's first number 1 in the US Dance Club Songs Chart.[26][27] The single additionally contained remixes by David Morales, which further put the single in club circulation.[27][28] The Return of the Space Cowboy was issued a month later and ranked at number 2 in the UK chart.[29] Q stated that the album was "an ebullient follow-up to [their] storming debut."[30] A Rolling Stone reviewer described the group "[parlaying] jazzy soul pop so tight, it crackles."[31] The instrumentation of the album was said to be "played by humans, not samplers", according to Josef Woodard from Entertainment Weekly.[32] In a 1996 report by Billboard, The Return of the Space Cowboy sold 1.3 million copies worldwide.[33] Jamiroquai became popular in Europe and Japan with the singles "Space Cowboy" and "Light Years", while they were primarily known in the United States within its club scene.[34] The album's fifth single "Stillness in Time" (1995), peaked at number 9 in the UK top-ten chart.[12] In the same year, Kay was featured in the track "Lost Souls" for Guru's album Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality.[35][36]

Released in 1996, Travelling Without Moving sold 1.4 million copies in the US and reached number 24 in the Billboard 200.[37][38] It sold 3 million copies in Europe,[39] and peaked at number 2 in the UK albums chart; selling 1.2 million copies.[12][27] A review from Q magazine stated that the album is "tighter and more compact in its production",[40] while critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine commented that despite having "more fully realised" fusions, it doesn't have "the uniform consistency of its predecessor."[41] The album single "Virtual Insanity" became popular for its music video; and it sold 356,000 copies and had been streamed 4.5 million times as of 2014.[27] It was preceded by "Cosmic Girl", which sold 250,580 copies and peaked at number 6 in the UK and remained in the position for 12 weeks.[27][42] Cosmic Girl was followed by "Alright", which charted in the US Billboard Hot 100 at number 78 and is the group's only song to appear in that chart.[43] In support of Travelling Without Moving, the group gave an international tour including the UK, Japan, Australia, Brazil and the US.[28]

The group were preparing their fourth album, Synkronized (1999), in Kay's Chillington studio complex, built in his Buckinghamshire country house.[44] During its production, bassist Stuart Zender left Jamiroquai due to conflicts with Kay.[45] Toby Smith said in an interview that while Zender had not been involved in the album's songwriting process, the group chose to scrap the recordings involving Zender.[45] He was replaced by Nick Fyffe for new bass tracks to avoid potential lawsuits.[17][45] This member change resulted in what Independent writer Lisa Markwell thought was an "[angrier] collection of songs" for Synkronized,[17] while the album "redirects the band's British tendency toward smoothed-out old black jams..." according to Spin magazine.[46] It contained 1999's "Canned Heat", which was their second number 1 in the US Dance Club Songs Chart[26] and in 2004, appeared in a climactic dance scene of the comedy film Napoleon Dynamite.[47][48] The 1998 single titled, "Deeper Underground" was listed in the Godzilla soundtrack and was their first and only UK number 1, selling 339,100 copies.[27][49] Synkronized ranked number 1 in the UK albums chart and number 28 in the US Billboard 200.[50] It sold 3 million copies in comparison to Travelling Without Moving, which 8 sold million copies.[49]

2001–2011: A Funk OdysseyRock Dust Light StarEdit

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.[51][52][53] It was released to generally mixed reviews,[54] 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",[55] and Mojo writing that the album "[succumbs] to unambitious disco stylings."[56] A Funk Odyssey was the last album to feature songwriter and keyboardist Toby Smith who left the group in the following year,[57] while guitarist Rob Harris joined and contributed to the album's songwriting, such as "Corner of the Earth".[53] The band embarked on a world tour to promote the album, including locations in Europe, Hong Kong and Melbourne. They were accompanied by vocalist Beverley Knight,[58][59] who was featured in A Funk Odyssey with the tracks, "Love Foolosophy" and "Main Vein".[60][59] The album topped both the UK and the European Top 100 Albums charts and reached Top 10 charts in Germany, Ireland, Austria and Finland.[61] The accompanying single "Little L" peaked at number 1 in Spain.[61] Along with "You Give Me Something", at number 2 in the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart and sold 185,000 copies in the country.[62]

Their sixth album titled Dynamite, was released in 2005, and reached number 3 in the UK chart.[63] It was produced by Mike Spencer and had been recorded in various locations in Europe and the US.[62] The album was described by musicOMH as a "return of [of their] trademark blend of ’80s funk and pop sensibilities" that "[mixes] techno sounds and fretless bass and funky guitar".[64] Its tracks "Feels Just Like It Should" and "Love Blind" were characterised as "[having] a fatter, dirtier sound than usual".[65] The former single received a Grammy nomination for Best Short Form Music Video.[66] Since the release of the album, the group's line-up has consisted of Kay, Harris, drummer Derrick McKenzie, keyboardist Matt Johnson, Paul Turner on bass guitar, and percussionist Sola Akingbola.[67]

In 2006, the group announced their switch to Columbia Records.[68] 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.[69] It topped the UK album chart after its first week of release.[50] The compilation also contained two new tracks, "Radio and "Runaway", which reached number one on the US Dance Club charts.[26] The following year, Jamiroquai performed in the Gig in the Sky, a concert held on a private Boeing 757 in association with Sony Ericsson.[70] The group thus currently holds the Guinness World Record for "fastest concert", performed on the aircraft whilst travelling at 1017 km/h (632 mph).[71] They formerly held the record for the "highest concert", which was then broken by the Black Eyed Peas performing in a Virgin Australia aircraft.[72]

Jamiroquai performing in Warsaw, Poland in 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".[73] Matt Collar commented in an AllMusic review of the album that the group were "heading back to [their] rock and organic soul roots",[74] with a sound The Telegraph termed as "Californian Seventies funk rock".[75] It ranked number 7 in the UK, their lowest position in the country,[76] while the album single "White Knuckle Ride" was number 1 in Italy and also charted in the Netherlands and Switzerland,[69] preceded by "Blue Skies" reaching number 36 in the UK radio airplay chart.[69] The following year also saw members Harris, Johnson, and Turner forming the sub-group Radio Silence, with their album Travelogue being released.[77][78]

2017–present: AutomatonEdit

Jamiroquai released Automaton in 2017, their eighth studio album and the first in seven years. It was produced by Kay and member Matt Johnson, and "has a heavy electronica influence, featuring retro synths, icy arpeggiated melodies, stompy house beats and bubbling basslines", according to a review by the New Zealand Herald.[79] It reached number 4 in the UK chart and topped the Italian album chart.[12][80] The trailer for the album's eponymous single received more than 5 million views on YouTube and two shows that were scheduled in Paris and London sold out tickets in one minute.[81] In May, Kay seriously injured his spine.[82] Requiring surgery, it led to two shows in Tokyo for their Automaton Tour being rescheduled in September.[83]

In January 2018, Jamiroquai released a track titled, "Now We Are Alone" on their official YouTube page. They gave their first US performance in 13 years at the 2018 Coachella Music Festival and were accompanied by Snoop Dogg on stage.[84]

Musical styleEdit

"You've got to be so careful that you protect what you're doing and [not] let someone else come in and ruin it. Making an album is like designing a car: You have to resist distractions and interference [or you will] end up with something boxy and average that looks nothing like your [original] vision, the one that got everyone excited in the first place."[85]

Kay on maintaining the group's musical autonomy

Jamiroquai's sound is generally termed as acid-jazz,[86] funk,[87] disco,[88][89] soul,[21] house,[90] and R&B.[91][92] Their sound has been described as having an "anything-goes attitude, an approach that leaves the band open to anything".[93] Jay Kay is the primary songwriter of Jamiroquai. Despite his lack of ability to play musical instruments, he would sing and scat melodies for his band members to transcribe to their instrumentation.[4] During the 1990s, Jamiroquai incorporated a didgeridoo to their sound. Played by Wallis Buchanan, it was considered as a distinctive element to their earlier musical style.[93][94] When asked about how the group maintained their success, Kay responded, "By not worrying about staying relevant... Jamiroquai never really fitted into a trendy genre or anything."[95]

For the band's live performances, Kay said that "playing live is our forte" and that he "[found] studio work a bit stiff in comparison."[8] Robert Hillburn of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the live band comprised a "10-member musical team, including a deejay and a horn section", and that Kay "asserts the confidence and command of a dancer with moves as fluid and surprising as Prince’s".[96] 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."[97] Hillburn additionally praised Kay for "establishing a rapport with the audience."[96] Upon the formation of Jamiroquai, the group intended to focus on the use of live instruments within a big band in contrast to computers and synthesisers,[45] as Kay stated that he wanted "a proper live band with a proper live sound."[4] In response to criticism towards the group "being retro or being funk", songwriter and keyboardist Toby Smith said "that's what it sounds like when 10 musicians play live."[45]

Jamiroquai's sound is derived from various funk influences from the 1970s, and "Britain’s mid-'80s rare-groove scene, where American jazz/funk pioneers such as Roy Ayers, Herbie Hancock, Lou Donaldson, Grant Green and others reigned".[98] The group, as well as Kay's vocals, have been frequently compared to Stevie Wonder.[8][17][21][99][100] He however has voiced against being compared to other artists.[101] A 2003 compilation titled Late Night Tales: Jamiroquai under Azuli Records, contains a selection of the band's soul, funk and disco influences.[102] In an AllMusic review for Dynamite (2005), the album was described as having a "grab bag aesthetic" that collects sounds from "Chic and Parliament as Kajagoogoo, the Police, and Terry Callier."[103] Kay said that the influences for Rock Dust Light Star were "Rod Stewart, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones [...] in their more rock/disco phase."[104] Kay expressed his desire to maintain a distinctive sound for the group whilst referencing his influences: "If you just sample Barry White or Sly Stone, that’s one thing; to get their spirit is different."[98] He was additionally influenced by hip-hop and its culture.[21]


"[Virtual Insanity] was a very prescient song I wrote. I think the ideas in that song [have been more relevant] than they were back then."[95]

Kay speaking about "Virtual Insanity" in regard to the group's social topics in their lyrics

Jamiroquai's lyrics have occasionally dealt with socially idealistic themes. Emergency on Planet Earth (1993) revolved around environmental awareness,[20][21] while The Return of the Space Cowboy (1994) contained themes of homelessness, Native American rights and slavery.[34][21] The central idea of Automaton (2017) was according to Kay: "[to recognize] the rise of artificial intelligence and technology[...] [and how humans are beginning] to forget the more pleasant, simple and eloquent things in life and in our environment including our relationship with one another as human beings."[105]

However, critics accused the band of not staying true to their lyrical values; with arguments that the group focused more on "boy-girl seductions" and "having fun" instead of making social and environmental change,[106][53] and that Kay's interest in sports cars went against their ecological themes.[1][17][107] Kay said in an interview with Muzik, that he was initially reluctant to release Travelling Without Moving (1996) as it adopted a motorcar concept,[nb 1] but added: "just because I love to drive a fast car, that doesn't mean I believe in [destroying the environment.]"[108] He additionally stated in 1999 interview that "after a while you realise that people won't boogie and dance to [politics]."[17]


The LED helmet that appears in the "Automaton" music video was inspired by the Pangolin, an endangered species.[109]

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 "[look] good after 10–15 years".[110] Called "icons of the music-video format" by Spencer Kornhaber from The Atlantic,[111] 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."[112]

The band's frontman, Jay Kay, has worn various elaborate head-gear.[100][111][113] In a 1993 interview with Melody Maker, he said that wearing head-gear gives him a spiritual power that the Iroquois called "orenda" and if "[the audience] isn't really going for it, I'll tug the hat down and come on all militant."[8] The illuminating helmet that appears in the video for "Automaton" was designed by Moritz Waldemeyer for Kay to control its lights and movements and to portray him as "an endangered species".[109] He additionally wore indigenous-themed head-dresses, which were met with criticism from the Indian Country Media Network, commenting that he had worn sacred regalia of the First Nations.[114]


Jamiroquai were a prominent component within the London-based funk/acid-jazz movement of the 1990s.[107][115] They were the third best selling UK act of that decade,[107] after the Spice Girls and Oasis. As of February 2017, the group has sold more than 26 million albums worldwide,[76][116] including UK sales of 4.4 million and US sales of 2.5 million copies sold as of 2010.[69][117] The band has had four albums that reached number 1 in the UK and three albums that entered the Billboard 200 chart in the US.[50] Among their albums included Travelling Without Moving, which entered the Guinness World Records as the best-selling funk album in history.[118] Front-man Kay was given a BMI Presidents Award, "in recognition of his profound influence on songwriting within the music industry."[119] Artists who cite the group as an influence include Tyler, the Creator,[82][120] Chance the Rapper,[121] Pharrell Williams,[82] Anderson .Paak,[122] SZA,[123] Kamaal Williams,[124] and Calvin Harris,[125] who had also remixed the group's material.[126]



Current members
  • Jay Kay – lead vocals (1992–present)
  • Derrick McKenzie – drums (1994–present[24])
  • Sola Akingbola – percussion
  • Rob Harris – guitar
  • Matt Johnson – keyboards
  • Paul Turner – bass
  • Nate Williams – keyboards, guitar, backing vocals (2017–present)[127]
Former members


Award Year of ceremony Nominee/work Category Result Ref(s)
Billboard Music Awards 1997 "Virtual Insanity" Alternative/Modern Rock Clip of the Year Won [130]
Maximum Vision Award Won
BMI Awards 2017 Jay Kay BMI Presidents Award Won [119]
Best Art Vinyl 2006 "Space Cowboy" Best Vinyl Art Nominated [131]
Brit Awards 1994 Themselves Best British Breakthrough Nominated [132]
Best British Group Nominated
Best British Dance Act Nominated
Emergency on Planet Earth Best British Album Nominated
Too Young To Die Best British Video Nominated
1995 "Space Cowboy" Best British Video Nominated
1997 "Virtual Insanity" Best British Video Nominated
Travelling Without Moving Best Pop Album Nominated
1998 Themselves Best British Dance Act Nominated
"Alright" Best British Video Nominated
1999 "Deeper Underground" Best British Video Nominated
Themselves Best British Dance Act Nominated
2000 Best British Dance Act Nominated
2002 Best British Group Nominated [133]
2003 Best British Dance Act Nominated [132]
Grammy Awards 1997 "Virtual Insanity" Best Performance By A Duo Or Group Won [66]
Travelling Without Moving Best Pop Album Nominated
2005 "Feels Just Like It Should" Best Short Form Music Video Nominated
Hungarian Music Awards 1998 Travelling Without Moving Best Foreign Album Won [134]
2000 Synkronized Best Foreign Dance Album Nominated [135]
2002 A Funk Odyssey Best Foreign Dance Album Nominated [136]
2011 Rock Dust Light Star Modern Pop / Rock Album of the Year Nominated [137]
2018 Automaton Pop / Rock Album of the Year Nominated [138]
IFPI Platinum Europe Awards 1996 Travelling Without Moving Award Level 1 Won [139]
1997 Award Level 2 Won [140]
1999 Synkronized Award Level 1 Won [141]
2000 Travelling Without Moving Award Level 3 Won [142]
2001 A Funk Odyssey Award Level 1 Won [143]
International Dance Music Award 2007 "Runaway" Best Breaks / Electro Track Nominated [144]
Ivor Novello Award 1999 Themselves Outstanding Song Collection Won [145]
Japan Gold Disc Awards 1997 Travelling Without Moving Best Album of the Year – Rock / Folk Won [146]
2000 Synkronized Rock Album of the Year Won [147]
Kiss Awards 2005 Themselves Best Male Artist Nominated [148]
MOBO Awards 1997 Travelling Without Moving Best Album Won [149]
MTV Europe Music Awards 1996 "Virtual Insanity" MTV Select Nominated [150]
1999 Themselves Best Group Nominated
Best Dance Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards 1997 Themselves Best New Artist Nominated [151]
"Virtual Insanity" Video of the Year Won
Breakthrough Video Won
Best Choreography Nominated
International Viewers Choice Awards for MTV Europe Nominated
Silver Clef Award 1998 Themselves Silver Clef Award Won [152]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The album cover recreates the Ferrari logo with the band's "Buffalo Man" logo.[1]


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  40. ^ Q (10/96, p.164) - 4 Stars (out of 5) - "...Tighter and more compact in its production than the epic funk arrangements of...The Return of the Space with ears can deny Jason Kay's musicality--he's an extraordinary singer, and proves it here..."
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