Words by Brian Getz :: Images by David Rowe
Jamiroquai :: 10.24.05 :: Times Square :: New York, NY
The journey of Jamiroquai is one of many twists and turns, one born on the streets of London during the epic acid jazz/house years of the early '90s. The club scene that later bore the rave scene, a community regenerating hippie ideals, club culture itself was one of Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect, expanding sounds and psychedelia, and today is looked back upon fondly and with reverence.
The skinny skate kid whose beats and rhymes were supersonic melodies and entrancing rhythms assembled an organically groovy ensemble and named it Jamiroquai. Then he put on the Buffalo hat. Jay Kay is today a bandleader in the James Brown sense, the singer, the dance freak, and the pimpslap B-Boy; although in their earliest incarnation, Jamiroquai was much more on an Earth trip, heady styles and boho-concerns were woven into epic lengthy rare groovy workouts. The music tried to dig deeper into the consciousness of their throngs of funkateers; the music eschewed the globalization and modernization of society, and the band tailored their songs to champion greener causes, whether it be rainforests or the mother herb. He walked with a swagger; Kay was immersed in culture, a British B-Boy with a penchant for the funk and R&B of '70s groove and decidedly dope dance moves, along with a Stevie Wonder-esque voice that propelled him to a new, young, hip audience. His style and fashions impeccable, Jay aligned himself with musicians that could unearth dreamy new grooves, casually dipped in the retro style that bore acid jazz.
Jay Kay - Jamiroquai
Beginning in 1992, with the refreshing and innovative 12" When You Gonna Learn and the following debut album Emergency on Planet Earth, with the help of countless studio musicians of all trades, Jay Kay brought a world-conscious sonic brew to a scene known for constantly breaking new ground. Jamiroquai further cemented their significance with 1994's The Return of the Space Cowboy, an album filled with otherworldly grooves and politically charged lyrics, beautiful melodies and successful chances taken. Jamiroquai's finest lineup emerged with Derrick Carter on drums, Stuart Zender on bass, founding member/keyboardist Toby Smith, and percussionist Sola Akimbola. Incorporating pulsating house rhythms with seductive R&B anthems, augmented by a didgeridoo, a DJ, and a JB's funky horn section, their live shows in this incarnation were expansive vehicles that broke backs out proper.
The release of 1997's Traveling Without Moving was a more modern, synthesized, less organic-feeling record with a nod towards the clubs that had made the scene in which Jamiroquai was birthed. This record would put the band on the map worldwide, with the success of the anthemic "Virtual Insanity" and its ubiquitous music video featuring Kay dancing. The Buffalo hat took on various forms, and the signature logo became recognizable in all corners of the globe. During this time, Jamiroquai sewed their oats all over the world, bringing an enormous band and sound to deliver their DJ D-Zire-enhanced organic clubland concoction. The 97-98 incarnation, sound, and attack is considered both the best era of the band and the beginning of the changes that would
alienate much of its grassroots, break up the Zender/Kay connection, and send Jamiroquai soul-searching for much of the next few years. Bassist Stuart Zender, long holding resentment towards the credit and recognition Jay Kay had received for the entire band, left the fold. It was to be a precursor to change that many longtime Jamiroquai funkateers would grow to dislike.
Zender's absence was more than noticeable on subsequent albums like 1999's Synkronized and 2001's A Funk Odyssey. The band changed their sound, direction, and content dramatically during this period. They phased out the hippie trappings, ditching the didgeridoo and later the horns. Their new sound brought string-filled dramatic disco energy gone digitized. It was lapped up in clubland quarters and remixed by many electronic artists. Late nights were kept globe-trotting and then retreating to Kay's royal home, Buckinghamshire Manor. Jay Kay had made a transformation.
Rob Harris & Jay Kay
The band made many more changes during this period and toured the world in different incarnations, keeping the vibe alive but no longer breaking the new ground their first three records had. Jay Kay, a celebrity on a Justin Timberlake level in France, South America, Italy, Australia, and Japan, struggled with the limelight, drugs, relationships, and the absence of Zender and later, longtime collaborator and founding member keyboardist Toby Smith, who left the night before 2001's U.S. tour was to begin. The band's sound has since traversed an odd house/disco terrain, foregoing many of its jazzier, R&B sensibilities and organic grooves in search of a digitized pulsating dance thump. It worked to re-energize the band but failed as the band began to wane creatively in terms of stepping into new realms.