From driving bans to Denise Van Outen, the public dramas of front man Jay Kay have often overshadowed the band's tremendous success. Jamiroquai talk about life in the spotlight.
Jason Kay was born 30 December 1969 in Stretford, Manchester. In his teens, he moved with his mother, jazz singer Karen Kay, to east London. It was here that he developed an interest in hip hop, graffiti, and all the related street culture, displeasing his mother and causing many fights between them. Eventually, his mum threw Jay out of her home, at age 15. He was forced to take on a variety of jobs to try to get by, including telemarketing and selling kilts.
Things weren’t going all that well. Kay was living in a squat in Ealing, west London, and resorting to petty theft, often in trouble with the law. He finally reached the decision to stop this way of life and pursue his interest in music, after being attacked and stabbed in a near-death experience, and being arrested for a crime he did not commit.
The early 1990s acid jazz revolution was the perfect new start for the young Kay, in his unusual buffalo hat. After auditioning unsuccessfully as lead singer for The Brand New Heavies, he formed his own band, Jamiroquai. The original band members were Toby Smith (keyboards), Nick van Gelder (drums), Stuart Zender (bass), Wallis Buchanan (vibraphone) and Jay Kay (lead singer).
1992 was the year it all truly began. Jamiroquai’s debut single, 'When You Gonna Learn?', was played on Kiss FM and then released on record label Acid Jazz. Shortly after that, Kay signed an unprecedented £1 million, eight-album record deal, with Sony’s label “S2” (now known as Sony BMG Music Entertainment). It was a gamble for Sony as, at that stage, Kay was relatively unknown. It was a gamble, however, that paid off. To date, that deal has included sales of over 20 million albums and five world tours. Seven of the eight albums have been released, all of them huge successes.
Jamiroquai is recognised the world over and their music is undoubtedly danceable and their live act, electrifying. They’re not, however, all about funky visuals and good tunes, Kay always has an opinion about the world and mankind, and he isn’t afraid to share it. He gets the message across in his lyrics. The mercurial debut album, 'Emergency on Planet Earth' (1993), full of soulful grooves and flowing jazz instrumentals, dealt with climate change, wars of power-hungry dictators, and world poverty.
'The Return of the Space Cowboy' (1994) followed, a raw and dark observation of inner-city life. The album that was to make Jamiroquai a global phenomenon, 'Travelling Without Moving' (1996), also came with a warning about the dangers of biogenetic engineering. These concerns are today mirrored in the debate over cloning and donor babies. Strangely enough, the Grammy-winning single from the album, ‘Virtual Insanity’ (1996), was released on the day Dolly the Sheep was born. It won four awards at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, for Best Video, Best Special Effects, Best Cinematography, and Breakthrough Video. ‘Cosmic Girl’ (1996) was another huge hit single from this album, which helped Jamiroquai establish a hold on the American market.
Jamiroquai’s hit single ‘Deeper Underground’ (1998) was in the soundtrack of the movie 'Godzilla' (1998). ‘Canned Heat’, a single from the next album 'Synkronized' (1999), was featured in two films, 'Center Stage' (2000) and 'Napoleon Dynamite' (2004).
'Synkronized' (1999) and the multi-platinum 'A Funk Odyssey' (2001) were two deeply personal albums for Kay and showed a shift in musical direction. Less evident were the acid jazz sounds and stonger was the pull towards funk and disco. This brought further commercial success for the band, with the single ‘Little L’ (2001) reaching number one in charts worldwide. Kay then took much-needed time out, to recuperate and recharge his energies.
'Late Night Tales: Jamiroquai' (2003) is a DJ mix album by Jamiroquai and is the tenth release in the 'Late Night Tales' series.
After spending almost two years on the writing, recording and fine-tuning of the next album, Kay felt satisfied that it was worth the effort and was extremely proud of 'Dynamite' (2005). It is probably their most diverse album, bringing together funk, disco, house, electronic and acoustic music. It was recorded in New York, Los Angeles, Costa Rica, Italy, Spain, Scotland, and in Kay’s studio in Buckinghamshire.
The single ‘Feels Just Like It Should’ (2005) reached number eight in the UK and number one, for six weeks, in the US. ‘Seven Days in Sunny June’ (2005) reached number 14 in its first week on the UK charts. Issues on this album surround world leadership, television evangelists and their moral credibility, and why there is so much hate in our modern world, often in the name of religion. Kay may have been quiet for a while, but he is back with feeling. The Jamiroquai sound is a little tighter, a little leaner and meaner, but it hasn’t lost any of its social conscience.
Their latest album was 'Rock Dust Light Star' in 2010.
Many may view Kay in a poor light when looking at his tabloid headlines, his lifestyle, and his silly hats. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate him in any way. His fearless and forthright attitude may make him an easy target, but his heart is most certainly in the right place.
The current Jamiroquai line-up is: Jason Kay (vocals), Derrick McKenzie (drums), Sola Akingbola (percussion), Rob Harris (guitar), Matt Johnson (keyboards), Paul Turner (bass), Lorraine McIntosh (backing vocals), Hazel Fernandez (backing vocals), Sam Smith (backing vocals).
Derrick McKenzie (drums)
• Born 27 March 1962, with drumming in his blood.
• Became a fulltime and well sought after session drummer, with bands such as Urban Species.
• Central cohesive force of the band.
• Influences include classic soul music, Prince, and Billy Cobham (his drumming hero).
• Joined Jamiroquai in 1994 for the recording of the “Return of the Space Cowboy” album.
Sola Akingbola (percussion)
• Born in 1965 in Nigeria.
• As a young child, he moved with his parents to the UK.
• Used to DJ in London clubs.
• Is strongly influenced by African music but his tastes are varied, including Miles Davis, Earth Wind and Fire, and classical composers.
• Has played with artists such as jazz guitarist Ronnie Jordan.
• Joined Jamiroquai in 1995.
Rob Harris (guitar)
• Born 27 August 1971 in Cambridgeshire.
• Started playing guitar at age seven and soon mastered both the acoustic and electric guitars.
• Inspired by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
• Been playing professionally since age 21.
• Joined Jamiroquai in 2000 and soon started work recording “A Funk Odyssey”.
Matt Johnson (keyboards)
• Started playing the piano at age five (his father was a musician but he went to a piano teacher for lessons).
• Influences range from Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to Squarepusher.
• Was a writer and performer in two bands, Sunray and Nu Hope, before Jamiroquai.
• Joined Jamiroquai in 2001, upon recommendation from previous Jamiroquai guitarist, Simon Katz.
Paul Turner (bass)
• Born in Sunderland.
• Been a full time professional musician since 1987.
• Spent two years recording and touring the world with Annie Lennox prior to joining Jamiroquai.
• Has played with the likes of Omar, Mica Paris, and urban jazz funk band Down to the Bone (very successful in the United States).
• Joined Jamiroquai in April 2005 (newest member).
Kay has become somewhat of a style icon, much to his amusement, gaining a collection of GQ and Elle style awards. He leads something of the rockstar lifestyle, owning a Buckinghamshire mansion, with a purpose-built recording studio, a garage overflowing with expensive, fast cars, and his own helipad in the grounds. He has a hideaway home in Scotland, near Gairloch, which he uses to escape the rigours of fame.