Jamiroquai performing at the O2 in London (2017)
|See former members|
Jamiroquai are an English jazz-funk band from London, formed in 1992. Fronted by singer-songwriter Jay Kay, the band rose to international fame in the 1990s as one of the most prominent components in the London-based funk/acid jazz movement. They are also best known in pop culture for the song "Canned Heat" (1999), featured in Napoleon Dynamite, and for the iconic music video for the 1996 single "Virtual Insanity".
Their first release under Acid Jazz records was "When You Gonna Learn", which landed them a record deal with Sony Soho2. While they were under this label, the group released a string of million-selling albums containing singles that have entered various charts worldwide, while having more moderate success in America in the Dance Club charts. Over the years, Kay has consistently remained as a member through several line-up changes.
The group's sound was influenced by black music, and they also explored other musical directions such as rock, electronica and Latin music. With Kay primarily in charge of the band's creative direction, Jamiroquai favoured live instrumentation and stage performances. Their lyrics, as well as their visual concepts, occasionally reference Kay's views towards environmentalism and social idealism. Although Kay had maintained these values, journalists have questioned his lyrical motives on the group's more accessible material.
With the band selling more than 26 million albums worldwide, Jamiroquai's 1996 album Travelling Without Moving, holds the Guinness World Record for the best-selling funk album in history. They also broke another record for the fastest ever performance on an aeroplane. The group has won an Ivor Novello Award, as well as one Grammy Award, two MTV Video Music Awards, and receiving 13 Brit Award nominations during the course of their career.
Jason "Jay" Kay, a nightclub worker, began writing songs to send to record companies. Among them was "When You Gonna Learn", which was first studio recorded in the Round House in Camden. 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. He was then signed to Acid Jazz Records in 1991 after he sent a demo tape of him covering a song by the Brand New Heavies. Afterwards, he gradually gathered band members, including his friend Wallis Buchanan who played the didgeridoo. Kay was suggested by his manager to enlist keyboardist Toby Smith, but was not convinced by his initial playing style. After the group performed as support act for the Brand New Heavies, Kay met Smith again who persuaded Kay to join as the group's co-songwriter and keyboardist. The first song they wrote together was "Too Young to Die".
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. The band name is an interlock of the words, "jam" and "iroquai"; the latter is based on the Iroquois, a Native American confederacy. 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.
Jamiroquai had begun performing in the British club scene. When You Gonna Learn was released as their debut single in October 1992 and entered the UK chart at number 52. It featured bassist Andrew Levy, who was from the Brand New Heavies. Kay was originally given £2.5k (US$3.3k) for his first album, when he subsequently signed with Acid Jazz records; the single however, cost £35k ($46k) to produce due to Kay's control of the production. Following the success of "When You Gonna Learn", the group were offered multiple major-label contracts and settled for a one million dollar, 8 album record deal with Sony Soho2. Kay was the only member who signed under the contract, but would share his royalties with his band members in accordance to their contributions.Stuart Zender had left school and subsequently became the group's bassist in 1993.Emergency on Planet Earth, was released in the same year and was described by an AllMusic reviewer as "[showing] quite a range of diversity, from the up-tempo jazzy instrumental 'Music of the Mind' to the stop-start funk of 'Whatever It Is, I Just Can't Stop.'" It reached the UK albums chart at number 1, and sold 1.2 million copies worldwide, according to a Billboard report in January 1994. With Emergency on Planet Earth having an ecologically charged concept, the music video for "When You Gonna Learn" was banned in America for using footage of a Nazi party. The album's second single, "Too Young to Die" entered the UK singles chart at number 15.
Derrick McKenzie became the group's new drummer when the holiday of their original drummer Nick Van Gelder, took longer than expected. Jamiroquai followed up with The Return of the Space Cowboy in 1994, ranking at number 2 in the UK chart.Q stated that the album was "an ebullient follow-up to [their] storming debut." A Rolling Stone reviewer described the group "[parlaying] jazzy soul pop so tight, it crackles." The instrumentation of The Return of the Space Cowboy was what Josef Woodard from Entertainment Weekly thought was "played by humans, not samplers." While recording the album, Kay feared of falling into the "second album syndrome". He was in a creative block which was emphasised by his increasing drug use. The group became popular in Europe and Japan with the album singles "Space Cowboy" and "Light Years". In a 1996 report, the album sold 1.3 million copies worldwide. The single "Space Cowboy" sold 114,000 copies and was the group's first number 1 in the US Dance Club Songs Chart. The single additionally contained remixes by David Morales, which further put the single in club circulation. At the time, Jamiroquai were primarily known in the United States within its club scene. "Stillness in Time" was another UK top-ten single, peaking at number 9. In 1995, Kay was featured in the track "Lost Souls" for Guru's album Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality.
Released in 1996, Travelling Without Moving sold 1.4 million copies in the US and reached number 24 in the Billboard 200. It sold 3 million copies in Europe, and peaked at number 2 in the UK albums chart; selling 1.2 million copies. A review from Q magazine stated that the album is "tighter and more compact in its production", while critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine commented that despite having "more fully realised" fusions, it doesn't have "the uniform consistency of its predecessor." "Virtual Insanity", the group's best known track that boosted in popularity with its music video; sold 356,000 copies and is streamed 4.5 million times as of 2014. It was also number 1 in Italy and Iceland. Another hit single titled "Cosmic Girl", sold 250,580 copies and peaked at number 6 in the UK and remained in the position for 12 weeks. It was number 3 in the Italy chart, number 4 in the Iceland chart, number 10 in Finland, and number 2 in the Belgium Ultratip charts. 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. In support of the album, the group gave an international tour including the UK, Japan, Australia, Brazil and the US. Prior to Travelling Without Moving, Jamiroquai contributed to the demo track, "Do You Know Where You're Coming From?" by British jungle-beat artist M-beat. Following a radio leak, Kay re-recorded the vocals of the song and was released as a single, as well as appearing on the album. Jamiroquai played as an opening act for the Rolling Stones at a Las Vegas show in November 1997.
The group were preparing their fourth album, Synkronized (1999), in Kay's Chillington studio complex, built in his Buckinghamshire country house. During its production, bassist Stuart Zender left Jamiroquai due to conflicts with Kay. Toby Smith said in an interview that although Zender had not been involved in the album's songwriting process, the group chose to scrap the recordings involving Zender. He was replaced by Nick Fyffe for new bass tracks to avoid potential lawsuits.Synkronized "redirects the band's British tendency toward smoothed-out old black jams..." according to Spin magazine. It contained 1999's "Canned Heat", which was their second number 1 in the US Dance Club Songs Chart and in 2004, appeared in a climactic dance scene of the comedy film Napoleon Dynamite. 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.Synkronized ranked number 1 in the UK albums chart and number 28 in the US Billboard 200. It sold 3 million copies in comparison to Travelling Without Moving, which 8 sold million copies. In 2000, Jamiroquai wrote the song "Everybody's Going to the Moon" for the film Titan A.E. and its soundtrack.
The group issued their 2001 follow-up, A Funk Odyssey. The album was primarily a disco record that also explored rock and Latin music influences. Guitarist Rob Harris joined the band and contributed to the album's songwriting, such as "Corner of the Earth".A Funk Odyssey sold 1 million copies in Europe and was certified platinum. In Australia, it was certified quadruple Platinum. The album topped the European Top 100 Albums chart and reached Top 10 charts in Germany, Ireland, Austria and Finland. The accompanying single "Little L" peaked at number 1 in Spain. Along with "You Give Me Something", it number 2 in the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart and sold 185,000 copies in the country. 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, who was featured in A Funk Odyssey with the tracks, "Love Foolosophy" and "Main Vein". Co-songwriter and keyboardist Toby Smith left the band in 2002 to prioritise time with his family.
Their sixth album titled Dynamite, was released in 2005, and reached number 3 in the UK chart. It was produced by Mike Spencer and had been recorded in various locations in Europe and the US. 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". Its tracks "Feels Just Like It Should" and "Love Blind" were characterised as "[having] a fatter, dirtier sound than usual". The former single received a Grammy nomination for Best Short Form Music Video. 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. Jamiroquai were featured in the re-release of "Hollywood Swinging" by Kool & the Gang which peaked at number 5 at the Billboard dance chart.
In 2006, the group announced their switch to Columbia Records. 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. It topped the UK album chart after its first week of release, and is certified triple platinum by the BPI. In Japan, it reached number 4 in the Oricon album charts. The compilation also contained two new tracks, "Runaway" and "Radio". The former reached number one on the US Dance Club charts.
Jamiroquai performed in the Gig in the Sky, a 2007 concert held on a private Boeing 757 in association with Sony Ericsson. The group thus currently holds the Guinness World Record for "fastest concert", performed on the aircraft whilst travelling at 1017 km/h (632 mph). They formerly held the record for the "highest concert", which was then broken by the Black Eyed Peas performing in a Virgin Australia aircraft.
Rock Dust Light Star was released in 2010 under Mercury Records. 30 songs were written and drafted during the album's two year production, costing £598k ($794k). Matt Collar commented in an AllMusic review that the group were "heading back to [their] rock and organic soul roots", with a sound The Telegraph termed as "Californian Seventies funk rock". It ranked number 7 in the UK, their lowest position in the country, but reached number 1 in both the French and German download charts as well as in the Dutch album chart. In 2011, Jamiroquai uploaded a track called "Smile" for free download via their SoundCloud page. That year also saw members Harris, Johnson, and Turner forming the sub-group Radio Silence, with their album Travelogue being released.
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 it "carefully balance[s] their signature sound" with EDM and trap music, according to an Exclaim! review of the album. 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. In May, Kay seriously injured his spine. Requiring surgery, it led to two shows in Tokyo for their Automaton Tour being rescheduled in September.
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.
Kay on maintaining autonomy to the group's music
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Jamiroquai's sound is generally termed as acid-jazz, funk, disco, soul,house, and R&B. On their first album, Emergency on Planet Earth (1993), a BBC Music reviewer stated that it "laid the foundations for an acid-jazz sound that the band would continue to build upon for the next decade and a half". At that point, the group would become a prominent component within the London-based funk/acid-jazz movement. 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. 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. When asked about how the group maintained a successful two decade career, Kay responded, "By not worrying about staying relevant... Jamiroquai never really fitted into a trendy genre or anything."
The group has a preference for playing live over recording studio albums. Kay said, "Playing live is our forte, you never know what's gonna happen next at [our shows.]" He would also say that studio recording is "a bit stiff in comparison." Kay described the 2010 album Rock Dust Light Star as "a real band record" that "[captures] the flow of our live performances". 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, as Kay stated that he wanted "a proper live band with a proper live sound." In response to criticism towards the group "being retro or being funk", Kay's co-songwriter Toby Smith said "that's what it sounds like when 10 musicians play live."
Jamiroquai's sound is derived from various funk influences from the 1970s. Journalists have frequently compared the group to Stevie Wonder, with emphasis on Kay's vocals. He however has voiced against being compared to other artists. A 2003 compilation titled Late Night Tales: Jamiroquai under Azuli Records, contains a selection of the band's soul, funk and disco influences. Kay was additionally influenced by hip-hop and its culture. 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." 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."
Artists who cite the group as an influence include Tyler, the Creator,Chance the Rapper,Pharrell Williams,Anderson .Paak, and Calvin Harris, who had also remixed the group's material.2Pac had sampled from the band's song "Manifest Destiny", while Missy Elliot and Chance the Rapper had both respectively sampled the song "Morning Glory" for 1997's Supa Dupa Fly and the 2015 song "Israel".
Kay speaking about "Virtual Insanity" in regard to the group's social topics in their lyrics
Before forming the group, Kay was inspired by the Iroquois' "spiritual reverence for the earth". This provided inspiration for some of the band's idealistic lyrics, such as the song "When You Gonna Learn", which covers "everything from racism to corporate greed".
The group has written socially charged tracks. "Manifest Destiny" touches on slavery and was termed as a "white guilt" song by Vibe. The track originates from The Return of the Space Cowboy (1994), which contains themes of homelessness and Native American rights. The song "Dr. Buzz" from the 2017 album Automaton, covers American gun violence, and references the slogan "Hands Up, Don't Shoot". With the songs Twenty Zero One" and "Automaton", they respectively brand technology for having "dehumanizing effects", along its rise with artificial intelligence, which according to Kay is affecting "our relationship with one another as human beings".
Political themes were expressed on the anti-war song "Too Young to Die", "The Kids" from The Return of the Space Cowboy which "[advocates] for the younger generation", and "World That He Wants" from Dynamite (2005), with lyrics written about George W. Bush.
Kay initially wrote songs about the environment, but when he became interested in sports cars, his songwriting motives were questioned by some journalists. When Kay anticipated the attention he would receive for Travelling Without Moving (1996), which adopted a motor-car concept,[nb 1] he was reluctant to release the album, but later stated that he retained his environmental values. The same album's lyrics were about "boy-girl seductions and [partying]" instead of "tolerance and environmentalism", according to a CMJ New Music review. The band's 2001 album A Funk Odyssey was described by PopMatters as being "more concerned with having fun than making meaningful social change." Kay said in separate interviews in the late 90's that he was tired of being a "troubadour of social conscience", and that "after a while you realise that people won't boogie and dance to [politics]."
Kay occasionally references his personal life in the band's lyrics. "Nights Out in the Jungle" is about his past struggles with drug addiction, which was previously alluded in The Return of the Space Cowboy. "Half The Man" is about the premature death of his twin brother, which "also doubles up really nicely as a love song."
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". Called "icons of the music-video format" by Spencer Kornhaber from The Atlantic, the group are 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."
The band's front-man, Jay Kay, has worn various elaborate head-gear. 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." 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".[nb 2] 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.
Jamiroquai were the third best selling UK act in the 1990s, after the Spice Girls and Oasis. As of February 2017, the group has sold more than 26 million albums worldwide, including UK sales of 4.4 million and US sales of 2.5 million copies sold as of 2010. 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. Among their albums included Travelling Without Moving, which entered the Guinness World Records as the best-selling funk album in history. Front-man Kay was given a BMI Presidents Award, "in recognition of his profound influence on songwriting within the music industry." The band also won an Ivor Novello Award for their "Outstanding Song Collection".
|1994||Brit Awards||Best British Breakthrough||Themselves||Nominated|||
|Best British Group|
|Best British Dance Act|
|MasterCard British Album||Emergency on Planet Earth|
|1995||Brit Awards||Best British Video||"Space Cowboy"|
|1996||MTV Europe Music Awards||MTV Select||"Virtual Insanity"||Nominated|||
|1997||Billboard Music Video Awards||Alternative/Modern Rock Clip of the Year||Won|||
|Maximum Vision Award|
|Brit Awards||Best British Video||Nominated|||
|Best British Dance Act||Themselves|
|Grammy Awards||Best Performance By A Duo Or Group||"Virtual Insanity"||Won|||
|Best Pop Album||Travelling Without Moving||Nominated|
|Japan Gold Disc Awards||Best Album of the Year - Rock / Folk||Won|||
|MOBO Award||Best Album||Won|||
|MTV Video Music Awards||Best New Artist||Themselves||Nominated|||
|Video of the Year||"Virtual Insanity"||Won|
|International Viewers Choice Awards for MTV Europe|
|1998||Brit Awards||Best British Dance Act||Themselves||Nominated|||
|Hungarian Music Awards||Best Foreign Album||Travelling Without Moving||Won|||
|Silver Clef Award||Silver Clef Award||Themselves||Won|||
|1999||Brit Awards||Best British Video||"Deeper Underground"||Nominated|||
|Ivor Novello Award||Outstanding Song Collection||Themselves||Won|||
|MTV Europe Music Awards||Best Group||Nominated|||
|2000||Brit Awards||Best British Dance Act||Themselves||Nominated|||
|Hungarian Music Awards||Best Foreign Dance Album||Synkronized||Won|||
|Japan Gold Disc Awards||Rock Album of the Year||Won|||
|MVPA Awards||Best Pop Video||"Canned Heat"||Nominated|||
|2002||Brit Awards||Best British Group||Themselves||Nominated|||
|Hungarian Music Awards||Best Foreign Dance Album||A Funk Odyssey||Won|||
|2003||Brit Awards||Best British Dance Act||Themselves||Nominated|||
|2005||Grammy Awards||Best Short Form Music Video||"Feels Just Like It Should"||Nominated|||
|Kiss Awards||Best Male Artist||Themselves||Nominated|||
|2007||International Dance Music Award||Best Breaks / Electro Track||"Runaway"||Nominated|||
|2011||Hungarian Music Awards||Modern Pop / Rock Album of the Year||Rock Dust Light Star||Nominated|||
|2017||BMI London Award||BMI Presidents Award||Jay Kay||Won|||
|2018||Hungarian Music Awards||Pop / Rock Album of the Year||Automaton||Won|||