Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai (/əˈmɪrəkw/ (About this soundlisten)) are an English funk and acid jazz band from London. Formed in 1992, they are fronted by vocalist Jay Kay, and were prominent in the London-based funk/jazz movement of the 1990s. Their style is characterised by sounds taking influence from black music and lyrics having dealt with social and environmental justice. Their later releases drew from rock, disco, electronic and Latin music genres. Kay has remained as the only original member through several line-up changes.

Jamiroquai
A band all dressed in dark clothing performing on stage; a singer with a white LED head-dress, two guitarists, a keyboardist, and a bongo player are seen behind fog coloured green from the stage lighting.
Jamiroquai performing at the O2 in London, 2017.
L-R: Matt Johnson, Rob Harris (foreground), Jay Kay and Sola Akingbola
Background information
OriginLondon, England
Genres
Years active1992–present
Labels
Websitejamiroquai.com
Members
Past membersSee former members

The band made their debut under Acid Jazz records, but subsequently found success under Sony with three of their albums charting at number one in the UK, including Emergency on Planet Earth (1993), Synkronized (1999), A Funk Odyssey (2001), and additionally their greatest hits compilation. The band's 1998 single "Deeper Underground" was also number one in the country.

The band has 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", also contributed to the band's success, and was named Video of the Year at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, and the song earned the band a Grammy Award in 1998.

HistoryEdit

1992: FormationEdit

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

Jay Kay was sending songs to record companies, including a hip-hop single released in 1986 under the label StreetSounds.[2][3] 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 his producer who took out half the lyrics and produced the song based on what was charting.[2] With the track restored to his preference, the experience helped Kay realise he "wanted a proper live band with a proper live sound".[2] The band would be named "Jamiroquai", a blend 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] Kay's manager scouted keyboardist Toby Smith, but was rejected because he played in an acid house style that Kay disliked, so Smith compromised his playing to join the group again as Kay's songwriting partner.[2] In 1992, Jamiroquai began their career by performing in the British club scene,[8] and released "When You Gonna Learn" as their debut single, charting outside the UK Top 50.[9] In the following year, Stuart Zender became the band's bassist by audition.[10][11]

1993–2000: BreakthroughEdit

 
Jay Kay performing with Jamiroquai in the mid-1990s

After the success of "When You Gonna Learn", the band were offered major-label contracts and Kay signed a one-million-dollar, 8-album record deal with Sony Soho2.[9][12][13] He was the only member under contract, but would share his royalties with his band members in accordance to their contributions.[13] Under Sony, the band released their debut album, Emergency on Planet Earth, where it entered the UK albums chart at number 1.[14] Kevin L. Carter of The Philadelphia Inquirer commented that the album "is full of upbeat, multi-hued pop tunes based heavily in acid jazz, '70s fusion, funk and soul, reggae and world music".[15] With it, the band would continue to build upon their acid-jazz sounds in the following years.[14] The album's ecologically charged concept gave Kay press coverage,[16] although Mark Jenkins of The Washington Post found the record's sloganeering "as crude as the music is slick".[17]

The band's drummer, Nick van Gelder, was on holiday for longer than expected, and he was replaced by Derrick McKenzie, who recorded with the group in one take for his audition.[18] They issued their second album The Return of the Space Cowboy in 1994, and it ranked at number 2 in the UK chart.[19] During its recording, Kay was in a creative block worsened by his increasing drug use at the time.[18][20] The album's complex songwriting caused Sony to tell Jamiroquai that "none of [the tracks] sounded like singles",[18] but the record was said to have "capture[ed] this first phase of Jamiroquai at their very best", by Daryl Easlea of BBC Music.[19] Josef Woodard from Entertainment Weekly wrote that its "syncopated grooves and horn-lined riffs" were "played by humans, not samplers".[21]

Released in 1996, Travelling Without Moving reached number 24 in the Billboard 200[22] and number 2 in the UK albums chart.[23] With 8 million copies sold worldwide,[24] it listed in the Guinness World Records as the best-selling funk album in history.[25] Containing symphonic and jungle elements,[26] Kay aimed for a more accessible sound.[27] Ted Kessler of NME saw Travelling Without Moving as an improvement from previous albums,[28] while critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine commented that it did not have "uniform consistenc[ies]" in comparison.[29] The album's lead single "Virtual Insanity" gained popularity for its music video, where it was heavily played on MTV,[30] and won two Video Music Awards for Breakthrough Video and Video of the Year in 1997.[31] The song also earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Performance By A Duo Or Group in 1998.[32]

While the group were preparing their fourth album, Synkronized (1999), Zender left Jamiroquai due to conflicts with Kay.[33] 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][33] This resulted in what was thought to be both a "tighter, more angry collection of songs" for Synkronized,[13] and a change of musical direction from "creating propulsive collections of [long] tunes, [and] speaking out against injustice".[34] Its tracks such as "Canned Heat" display a hi-NRG and house style, while slower tempos on others was said to "ease the pressure for [Kay's] more romantic musings".[35] The album ranked number 1 in the UK albums chart and number 28 in the US Billboard 200.[24][36] A year prior to Synkronized, "Deeper Underground" was released as a single for the Godzilla soundtrack and reached number one in the UK singles chart.[24]

2001–2016: A Funk OdysseyRock Dust Light StarEdit

 
Kay, Harris, McKenzie and Paul Turner performing at the Congress Theater in Chicago, 2005

The group issued their 2001 follow-up, A Funk Odyssey, a disco record that explored Latin music influences.[37][38] It introduced guitarist Rob Harris, whose playing in the album "melts seductively into a mix that occasionally incorporates lavish orchestration", according to Jim Abbot of Orlando Sentinel.[39] Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani claimed: "Like its predecessors, Odyssey mixes self-samplage with Jamiroquai’s now-signature robo-funk."[40] The album topped in the UK, and reached number 44 in the US Billboard 200.[41] It was the last album to feature Smith, who left the band in the following year for paternal reasons.[42]

Their sixth album, Dynamite, was released in 2005, and reached number 3 in the UK,[43] 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".[44] Its tracks "Feels Just Like It Should" and "Love Blind" were characterised as "[having] a fatter, dirtier sound than usual".[45] In 2006, Kay's contract with Sony ended,[46] which lead to the issue of the band's greatest hits collection, High Times: Singles 1992–2006. It charted at number one in the UK after its first week of release.[36] The following year, Jamiroquai performed in the Gig in the Sky, a concert held on a private Boeing 757 in association with Sony Ericsson.[47] The band thus currently holds the Guinness World Record for "fastest concert", performed on the aircraft whilst travelling at 1,017 km/h (632 mph).[48]

Rock Dust Light Star was released in 2010 under Mercury Records, where it charted at number 7 in the UK.[23] Kay described the album as a "a real band record" that "capture[s] the flow of our live performances".[49] Critics have seen this as a return to their organic funk and soul style,[50][51] as it forgoes "the electro textures that followed the band into the new millennium", according to Luke Winkie of musicOMH.[52] It also has a sound that Thomas H. Green of The Telegraph termed as "Californian Seventies funk rock".[53]

2017–present: AutomatonEdit

Jamiroquai released Automaton in 2017, their eighth studio album and the first in seven years, reaching number 4 in the UK.[23] It was produced by Kay and band keyboardist Matt Johnson, and it "carefully balance[s] their signature sound with[…] EDM, soul and trap sounds", according to Ryan Patrick of Exclaim!.[54] Craig Jenkins of Vulture writes: "Arrangements that used to spill out over horn, flute, didgeridoo, and string accompaniments now lean closer to French house".[55] By 2018, the group's line-up consisted of Kay, Harris, McKenzie, Johnson, Paul Turner on bass guitar, and percussionist Sola Akingbola.[56]

ArtistryEdit

Musical style and influencesEdit

Jamiroquai is generally termed as acid-jazz,[59] funk,[60] disco,[61] soul,[16] house,[62] and R&B.[26] Their sound has been described by J.D. Considine as having an "anything-goes attitude, an approach that leaves the band open to anything".[63] Tom Moon wrote that the band "embrac[es] old-school funk, Philly-soul strings, the crisp keyboard sounds of the '70s and even hints of jazz fusion," blending these with "agitated, aggressive dance rhythms to create an easygoing feel that looks both backward and forward".[64] Ben Sisario facetiously commented that Jay Kay and Toby Smith as songwriters, "studied Innervisions-era Wonder carefully, and just about everything the group has recorded sounds like it could in fact have been played by [Wonder] himself."[65]

Kay is the primary songwriter of Jamiroquai. Despite his limited ability to play musical instruments, he sang melodies and beats for band members to transcribe to their instrumentation.[2] He said that the band relies on analog sounds, such as running keyboards through vintage effects pedals "to get the warmth and the clarity of those instruments".[64] Parry Gettelman of The Orlando Sentinel described Kay's vocals as "not identifiably male or female, black or white".[66] Other writers said that Toby Smith's keyboard arrangements were "psychedelic and soulful",[35] and compared Stuart Zender's bass playing to the work of Marcus Miller.[67] Wallis Buchanan on didgeridoo was met with either praise or annoyance from critics.[28][63][68][65]

Kay was influenced by Roy Ayers, Herbie Hancock, Lou Donaldson, Grant Green, Sly Stone, Gil Scott-Heron, and hip-hop and its culture.[16][26][69] 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.[70] Kay and the group have been compared to Stevie Wonder, with some critics accusing the band of copying black artists.[13][71][72] Kay said in response that "we never tried to hide our influences".[71] The band references them as Kay maintained Jamiroquai's own sound: "it's about the style of music you aim for, not the exact sound. If you just sample Barry White or Sly Stone, that’s one thing; to get their spirit is different."[26]

LyricsEdit

"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[73]

Jamiroquai's lyrics has touched on socially charged themes. With Emergency on Planet Earth (1993), it revolves around environmental awareness and speaks out against war.[12][16] The Return of the Space Cowboy (1994) contains themes of homelessness, Native American rights, youth protests, and slavery.[16][18][74] "Virtual Insanity" from Travelling Without Moving (1996) is about the prevalence of technology and the replication and simulation of life.[64] The lyrics of Automaton (2017) allude to dystopian films and compromised relationships within a digital landscape.[75]

However, critics wrote that the band had focused more on "boy-girl seductions" and "having fun" rather than social justice,[76][38] and that Kay's interest in sports cars contradict his earlier beliefs.[1][3][13] Kay was reluctant to release Travelling Without Moving (1996) as it adopted a motorcar concept,[b] but added that: "just because I love to drive a fast car, that doesn't mean I believe in [destroying the environment.]"[77] He also stated in separate interviews that he was tired of being "[a] troubadour of social conscious",[16] and that "after a while you realise that people won't boogie and dance to [politics]."[13]

Stage and visualsEdit

While critics wrote that the group tended towards 1970s' funk and soul tropes in their performances, Kay's presence received praise, with critics noting his strong vocals and energetic dance moves on stage.[71][78][79][80] Robert Hilburn said that Kay "establish[es] a rapport with the audience" and has a "disarming sense of humor".[71][81] Helen Brown of The Telegraph was more critical, writing of a 2011 concert that there was no "deeply personal emotion" in its set list or in Kay's vocals, and that "much of the material is exhilarating in the moment, forgettable thereafter".[82]

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".[83] Their style was described as "sci-fi and futuristic" and by Kay as "a bit of ’70s old-school driver with a touch of ’70s B-boy thrown into it".[83][84] Jamiroquai's music video of "Virtual Insanity" made them "icons of the music-video format", according to Spencer Kornhaber from The Atlantic.[85] It was directed by Jonathan Glazer, and depicted Kay "perform[ing] in a room where the floors, walls and furniture all moved simultaneously."[86]

Kay has worn elaborate head-gear, some he designed himself.[71][87] In a 1993 interview with Melody Maker, he said that the head-gear gives him a spiritual power described by the Iroquois as "orenda".[12] The illuminating helmet that appears in the music video for "Automaton" was designed by Moritz Waldemeyer for Kay to control its lights and movements and to portray him as an endangered species.[88] Kay additionally wore Native American head-dresses, which was met with criticism by Indian Country Today, commenting that he had worn sacred regalia of the First Nations.[89]

LegacyEdit

"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,[69] Writer Kenneth Prouty said that "few acid jazz groups have reached the level of visibility in the pop music mainstream as London born Jamiroquai".[30] The success of the 1996 single "Virtual Insanity" led to "[the climax of] 1970s soul and funk that early acid jazz artists had initiated".[30] The band were also credited for popularising the didgeridoo.[90] Over the years, their studio albums became more sparsely released,[91] as Kay said 2013: "I will only put out an album now when I am inspired to do so".[73] 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".[83] 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".[92] Ben Sisario gave a negative review of the band's discography in The Rolling Stone Album Guide in 2004, finding much of their material to be identical.[65]

Jamiroquai were the third best-selling UK act of the 1990s[93] after the Spice Girls and Oasis. As of April 2017, they have sold more than 26 million albums worldwide.[42] Despite finding popularity in the UK with high-charting albums, the band could not maintain their relevance in the United States.[91] They sold 4.4 million albums in the UK and had US sales of 2.5 million copies sold as of 2010.[46][94]

Front-man Kay was given a BMI Presidents Award, "in recognition of his profound influence on songwriting within the music industry."[95] Artists who mention the group as an influence include Tyler, the Creator,[96] Chance the Rapper,[97] SZA,[98] Kamaal Williams,[99] Syd,[100] and Calvin Harris.[101]

Awards and nominationsEdit

DiscographyEdit

MembersEdit

Current members
  • Jay Kay – lead vocals
  • Derrick McKenzie – drums
  • Sola Akingbola – percussion
  • Rob Harris – guitar
  • Matt Johnson – keyboards
  • Paul Turner – bass
Former members[102][103]
  • Gary Barnacle – saxophone, flute
  • Simon Bartholomew – guitar
  • Wallis Buchanan – didgeridoo
  • D-Zire – DJ
  • Richard Edwards – trombone
  • Nick Fyffe – bass
  • Nick Van Gelder – drums
  • Kofi Karikari – percussion
  • Simon Katz – guitar
  • Glenn Nightengale – guitar
  • Maurizio Ravalico – percussion
  • Toby Smith – keyboards (died 2017[42])
  • John Thirkell – trumpet, flugelhorn
  • Stuart Zender – bass

NotesEdit

  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]

ReferencesEdit

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