Jamiroquai's ten year odyssey through the galaxy of funk has generated some spectacular statistics. The four albums released since Jay Kay's 1992 emergence from London's acid jazz underworld have sold 16 million copies. The last two albums alone, 1996's 'Travelling Without Moving' and 1999's 'Synkronized', shifted over 11 million between them. If front man Jay Kay was a little less self aware, he'd be over the moon about all those skyscraping figures:
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"Success is when I see all those people standing out there in front of me having a good time, and knowing that you've got a great album on your hands that you enjoy as much as they do," says Jay. "What's important about selling 16 million albums is it's right across the world. It's not just the UK, there's a whole world of people out there."
On the eve of a fifth album, 'A funk odyssey', Jay has good cause to feel proud of the democratic reach of his music. There was no masterplan when he inveigled his way into a studio to record the song that rocketed him and his buffalo hat into orbit. The first single for Acid Jazz, 1992's 'When You Gonna Learn?' was the the instinctive expression of a London kid high on funk, soul, R'n'B, jazz and disco. Nearly a decade later however, it'd be reasonable if Kay felt vindicated. The one time 'skinny white skate kid' from west London has taken a lot of flak for getting on down his way, yet as trends have disintegrated and prejudices faded, contemporary music has come to 'synkronize' with Jamiroquai's groove more than ever before.
Boogie is back big time. From Paris discos to LA film sets the history of classic, pre-techno dance music has been rolled out as the new hip thing. Meanwhile Jamiroquai have moved on, ahead of the game, taking their funky fusion to the next level of evolution. The hints of a turbo re-vamp to their organic groove were there on 'Synkronized'. Now comes 'A funk odyssey', overhauling the engine on the Jamiroquai funk machine to bring it in line with the sharpest technological dance. As club music has matured, whatever boundaries were there separating Jamiroquai from a Daft Punk or a Basement Jaxx have become permeable - and Jay was there before them all.
Issued through Sony's S2 after signing a long term deal, the organic superbadness of the debut Jamiroquai album 'Emergency On Planet Earth' impacted on a British musical climate still in the grip of post-acid house pseudo phuturism. Despite coming from an allegedly 'specialist' musical tributary, the immediate ascent of his debut to the top of the 1992 album charts was unstoppable.
Young, cocky and full of funk, Jamiroquai was a spanner in the works for the theoreticians. If Bootsy Collins and Gil Scott Heron are giving you the thumbs up, contemporary hip hop names from Gang Starr's Guru to Busta Rhymes to Missy Elliot want to work with you or sample you, you must be doing a lot right. Couple that with the fact that, through the 90s, even the most dedicated media cynics were forced to accept that Jamiroquai have consistently been an amazing live band.
Jamiroquai had and continues to have a lot of front, but none of it was faked. Jay chose the name - synonymous with both the man and the band - for its reference to the Iroquois tribe, reflecting his own empathy for their displaced status and earth aware mentality. Environmentalism and holistic politics were also the shaping force behind many of the lyrics on 'Emergency On Planet Earth'.
Expressing his spiritual hopes in those early days did not make life easy for Kay as they collided with a put-down hungry media. His uncalculated and off the cuff honesty certainly appeared to be appreciated by a general public used to insipid celebrity soundbites. Clearly not everyone thought that only saints should have opinions.
With keyboard player and founder member Toby Smith as his main co-writer and a settled band, Jamiroquai spent the six years after his breakthrough proving that with the help of some ultra-cool videos, British urban superfly fusion could compete with the best pop and dance music the globe could offer. Britain was won over by the top ten singles 'Too Young To Die' and 'Blow Your Mind', lifted from the debut album, and with the follow up, 1994's'Return Of The Space Cowboy' Jamiroquai went international. 'Cowboy' took off in Europe and Japan as well as going platinum in the UK. By 1997 they were breaking through big style in the US, picking up four MTV awards and a Grammy for 'Travelling Without Moving' - which shifted 1 and a half million copies over there. The single 'Virtual Insanity' dealt with the dangers of biogenetic engineering and set the seal on global chart domination, neatly followed by two more top ten's: 'Cosmic Girl' and 'Alright'.
The multi million selling triumph of 'Travelling', and gruelling world tour that accompanied it, allowed Jay to take time off in 98, yet even that year had its moment of triumph with the number one hit single 'Deeper Underground', written specially for the movie 'Godzilla'. With personnel shifts in the band taken care of and a studio installed in his recently purchased Buckinghamshire manor, Jay was able to test the water for his future direction with 99's 4 million seller 'Synkronized'.
As Jay boldly launches out into the next phase of his funk trek Jamiroquai has evolved into a multi-platinum funk myth, with all the surrounding distortion and delicious madness of a classic rockstar. At 31, still younger than a a lot of 'youth' music's leading lights, he has the country retreat, the tabloid attention on his love life, the fast cars, the loose tongue, the mercurial attitude, qualifying him as a fully fledged, top value superstar. As Britain's Q magazine recently put it: "Jamiroquai is the kind of pop star we could do with more of".
"What people have to remember is I'm a person, just a human being and none of us are perfect," says Jay. "I'm still growing up, and in a way I'm still a kid at heart. I think I will always be one of those sort of people. Some people grow up really fast and some grow up really slow. But everything I write in a song is still what I mean, and I still stick to my basic theories about life. Also what I do doesn't hurt anybody, it doesn't hurt a soul. I just hope my songs make people get up and go 'I love this track...I wanna boogie to this, I love what he sang on that... Oh that's just what happened to me yesterday ".
'A funk odyssey' is hyper-motivating on many levels. A state of the art attack on your ass, your heart and your mind. This time there's extra hot rod thrust - it's the first time the band have used the brand new programming suite recently built in Jay's Buckinghamshire studio, sampling themselves and blending the organic with the robo-funking. In addition new guitarist Rob Harris has made, according to Jay, 'a massive difference' - not least because he has co-writing credits on many of the songs. "It's been a lot of fun" Kay says "and I'm pleased with the results. It's moved on." On 'A funk odyssey' the Jamothership is now plasma powered. With major G-force, the Quincey-esque funkboost of the first single, 'Little L' sets the tone. The good times really roll on 'Feels So Good' - a spaced out nu-disco classic - and dancefloors will quake nitefever style to 'You Give Me Something'. Whilst showing off Jamiroquai's mastery of sublime dance music the new album also confirms his way with a tear-jerking ballad and an audacious string arrangement. The heart-stopping, confessional 'Picture Of My Life' and the beautiful, meditative, Latin brushed 'Corner Of The Earth' are career highpoints. "I think 'Corner Of The Earth' is pivotal" says Jay. "It sums up where I live really. It sums up where I am and I think it speaks for anyone who's in a place or a moment where they're happy. It's a spiritual song in a sense. I really am quite proud of it, I think lyrically it flows and twists really nicely. I think 'You Give Me Something' and 'Little L' are also great for a band like us because they're simple and straight to the point - kind of anthemic. 'Picture Of My Life' is just what it says, it's how I felt at the time.To be honest I cried when I wrote the words, if that gives you an idea. Because it really is so straight from the heart. And it gets me every time." In the new century, however, it's harder to regard his achievements as genre bound or somehow peripheral to the main event. Consider this: when Jamiroquai started out he was a skinny white kid making black music, with a disco-funk edge and warnings about eco threats and Third World debt. Ten years on, the biggest rap star's a skinny white kid, disco and funk are fully rehabilitated, and the new counter-cultural coalition is out in the streets protesting eco threats and Third World debt. Maybe it's time to credit Jay Kay for his intuition. If so, 'A funk odyssey' is a great moment to release the good feelings. "I'd just like to have a good year musically," says Jay. "I can't think of anything else I want now, because it takes over your life. But I love the whole rollercoaster ride of it and I feel good about this album, I feel good about it, I feel good!"
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