Active since the early ’90s, Jamiroquai have amassed a steady stream of hits in their native U.K. and experienced chart success in just about every other area of the world, with an irresistible blend of house rhythms and ’70s-era soul/funk (the latter, especially, leading early on to claims of Stevie Wonder imitations). The band has gone through several lineup changes during its career, but through it all, their leader has remained singer/songwriter Jason Kay (aka J.K.). Born on December 30, 1969, in Stretford, Manchester, Kay’s mother, Karen, was a jazz singer who regularly performed at nightclubs, and in the ’70s had her own TV show. After leaving home at the age of 15, Kay found himself homeless and in trouble with the law (by committing petty crimes to get by). After a near-death experience (where he was attacked and stabbed) and being arrested for a crime he did not commit, Kay decided to return home, where he chose to pursue a legitimate career over crime: music. Kay didn’t have a band to back up his compositions, but he quickly came up with his future project’s name, Jamiroquai, a name that combined the name of a Native American tribe (the Iroquois) along with the music-based word, jam.
Kay’s home demos caught the attention of the record label Acid Jazz, which issued Jamiroquai’s debut single “When You Gonna Learn?” in late 1992. With Kay enlisting the help of others (Jamiroquai’s best-known lineup included drummer Derrick McKenzie, keyboard player Toby Smith, bassist Stuart Zender, and vibraphonist Wallis Buchanan), the single was a success and was soon followed by a long-term and lucrative recording contract with Sony. Jamiroquai’s full-length debut, Emergency on Planet Earth, followed in 1993 and became a major hit in their native England (peaking at number one on the charts), spawning such Top Ten hit singles as “Too Young to Die” and “Blow Your Mind.” The band’s second release, The Return of the Space Cowboy in 1995, managed to steer Jamiroquai clear of the sophomore jinx that affects so many up-and-coming bands by out-selling its predecessor in Europe and was a sizeable hit in Japan, as well.
With most of the world dancing to Jamiroquai’s beat, America was next in line for the band’s third effort, 1996’s Traveling Without Moving. The album spawned the worldwide hit “Virtual Insanity,” for which an award-winning video was filmed and helped the album achieve platinum status in the States by the year’s end (as well as a highlighted performance at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards). Despite achieving breakthrough success, bassist Zender opted to leave the group during sessions for its follow-up, which resulted in Kay scrapping almost an entire album’s worth of new tracks in order to start from scratch with a new bassist (the slot would eventually go to newcomer Nick Fyffe). During the downtime, Jamiroquai contributed a brand-new track, “Deeper Underground,” to the soundtrack for the 1998 movie Godzilla.
But the long wait between albums seemed to kill Jamiroquai’s momentum in the U.S. slackened when 1999’s Synkronized was largely ignored (although back home and across the globe, it was another major commercial success). Subsequently, it appeared as though the majority of Jamiroquai’s U.S. media attention focused on non-music-related events, such as the band turning down a million-dollar offer to play at a concert on New Year’s Eve 1999, and when Kay was accused of assaulting a tabloid photographer (with the charges later being dropped).
It didn’t take Jamiroquai as long the next time around to issue another album, with A Funk Odyssey hitting the racks two years later in 2001. Kay also helmed a volume in the mix-album series Late Night Tales. From there, Jamiroquai spent the next two years gathering material for a sixth studio album. Dynamite, which was finally released in 2005, was written and recorded in Spain, Italy, Costa Rica, Scotland, New York, Los Angeles, and Jamiroquai’s own Buckinghamshire studio. The group’s seventh studio album, 2010’s Rock Dust Light Star, dutifully blended the disco and electronic leanings of 2005’s Dynamite with the organic, roots-based soul of the band’s 1993 debut.
In 2013, Jamiroquai marked their 20th Anniversary by reissuing remastered versions of their first three albums. Also around this time, they announced they had begun work on a new album and staged several short European tours. In 2017, they returned with their eighth studio album, Automaton, featuring the singles “Automaton” and “Cloud 9.” Produced by Kay along with keyboardist Matt Johnson, the album found the band exploring the themes of rising technology and the deterioration of human interaction, albeit with all of the electro-funky trappings that Jamiroquai have become so well known for. (by Greg Prato)
And here´s their debut album:
Emergency on Planet Earth is the debut studio album by English funk and acid jazz band Jamiroquai, released on 14 June 1993 under Sony Soho Square. Prior its release, the band debuted in 1992 with “When You Gonna Learn” under Acid Jazz Records, and front-man Jay Kay was given a major-label deal with Sony Music. The album was produced as Kay formed the band and is characterised by its acid jazz foundations, layers of instrumentation and socially charged lyrics.
Critical reviews of the album were generally positive and noted its 1970s stylings. It reached number one in the UK Albums Chart and sold over 1,200,000 copies worldwide. Its single “Too Young to Die” peaked at number 10 in the UK Singles Chart. A remastered version of the album was released in 2013 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the album’s release.
“I wanted this to be an album, not a collection of three minute songs. I didn’t want tracks to be rigid, stuck in that verse, chorus, verse, chorus thing. All the people I’d been listening to were jazz-fusion bands, they didn’t do three minute tracks, they just played.” (Kay, 2013)
While Jay Kay was sending songs to record companies, he wrote the first track “When You Gonna Learn” after taking inspiration from Native American and First Nation peoples and their philosophies, and from his anger towards the shooting of elephants in a television programme. The song also “takes on everything from racism to corporate greed” according to Interview. Kay said the track laid down “the sound, the flavor [and] the concept” of the album. After he had it recorded, Kay fought with his producer, who took out half the lyrics and produced the song based on what was charting at the time. With the track restored to his preference, the experience helped Kay realise he “wanted a proper live band with a proper live sound”. The band would be named “Jamiroquai”, a blend of the words “jam” and the name of a Native American confederacy, the Iroquois.
Kay gradually gathered band members, including Wallis Buchanan, who played the didgeridoo, and Stuart Zender, who became the band’s bassist by audition. Kay’s manager scouted keyboardist Toby Smith, who joined the group as Kay’s songwriting partner. Together, they wrote the second track “Too Young to Die”, a song also inspired by Kay’s anger towards the wars he had seen on television. Regarding how the track was written, Kay said in 2013: “I have a very limited musical ability in terms of playing”, so he would sing the instruments as Smith would work out the chords. The two tracks would shape up the album, they follow up to the “high-kicking” funk track “Hooked Up.” With the fourth track “If I Like It I Do It” Kay said it reminded him of “Harvest for the World” by Isley Brothers. The former song’s lyrics have been described as anarchist: “The kids want the system breaking down/Not higher education/If it ain’t no natural law/Then you can keep your regulations”. “Music of the Mind” is a laid-back Latin fusion track that takes inspiration from Flora Purim’s song “Moon Dreams”.
With the title track, Kay said that it ultimately defined the concept of the album: “The whole groove of it, all the syncopation, the strings gliding over the top… and the lyrics were hammer to the nail: ‘The kids need education/and the streets are never clean/…is that life that I am witnessing/or just another wasted birth'”. Kay wanted to re-create the Headhunters’ song “God Made Me Funky” with his own track “Whatever It Is I Just Can’t Stop”, and credits having “a real drummer” for its “funky feel”. “Blow Your Mind” is a soft track intended to last eight and half minutes long. The track was recorded in one take, Kay said: “the brass was feeling so nice that when we got to the end I didn’t want it to stop, so I motioned to the guys to go again, which is why there’s the reprise.” For the ten-minute track “Revolution 1993”, the track has “paramilitary drums” and “grinding bass”. With the lyrics, Kay said “it rounded off all the other things Ive been saying on the album”. It also has “crisscrossed ascending and descending lines, James Brown-like brass punches, a female rhythm and blues choir, Mitch Mitchellesque drums, African percussion, up-front funk bass and elements of hip hop, fusion, acid jazz, technopop and ragamuffin.” The album ends with the “didgeridoo workout” track “Didgin’ Out”.
Emergency on Planet Earth was released on 17 June 1993 under Sony Soho Square. In the United States, it was released under Columbia. Its inner sleeve contains a manifesto by Kay regarding the environment. The album reached number 1 in the UK albums chart and was certified Platinum, indicating it has sold 300,000 copies in the country. It became the fastest selling album in the country since Faith (1987) by George Michael. In France, it ranked number 7 in its SNEP Album Charts. In the country’s year end chart, it ranked number 14. The album ranked number 5 in the Swiss Album Charts, where it was certified Gold. In Japan, it ranked number 40 in the Oricon Charts, receiving a Platinum certification. The album reached number 15 in the Dutch Album Top 100 and sold 50,000 copies, certifying it as Gold. It also reached number 84 on its year end chart. Overall, the album sold 1,200,000 copies. In 2013, Emergency on Planet Earth was one of the first three albums to be re-issued on the band’s 20th anniversary campaign, also containing a bonus disc with remixes, demos, live performances and b-sides.
“When You Gonna Learn” was released as the lead single from the album on 19 October 1992 via Acid Jazz Records. The band were offered major label contracts after its release and Kay signed with Sony. The single charted at number 52 in the UK Singles Chart. The music video for the song “mix[es] images of cruelty, blight, disaster and genocide”. Because it featured the Holocaust, it was banned in American MTV. “Too Young to Die” was released as the second single from the album on 1 March 1993, reaching number 10 in the UK. “Blow Your Mind” was released as the third single from the album on 24 May 1993. The single peaked at #12 on the UK Singles Chart. “Emergency on Planet Earth” was released as the fourth single from the album on 2 August 1993. The track peaked at number 32 on the UK Singles Chart. “When You Gonna Learn” was re-released by Sony Records as the fifth and final single from the album on 13 September 1993. The re-release was slightly more successful than the original, peaking at number 28 on the UK Singles Chart.
Critics have noted the layers of instrumentation on Emergency on Planet Earth, including its horn and string arrangements and the digeredoo, which “few ’70s soul artists employed”, according to J.D. Considine. Praising Kay’s vocals, Christopher Dawes of Melody Maker said “Stevie Wonder and Aaron Neville were the instant reference points.” Entertainment Weekly described the album as helping the band “turn out gritty organic grooves with enthusiasm.” Q magazine gave the album 4 out of 5 stars, describing it as “A funky and beautiful record, a contender for best British soul album of the ’90s, and frankly better than anything Stevie Wonder has made since Hotter Than July.” BBC Music claims – “it laid the foundations for an acid-jazz sound that the band would continue to build upon for the next decade and a half.” Mike Zwerin of The New York Times called the album “a rare treasure, contemporary pop music with mass potential worth a detour”. Tony Parsons of The Daily Telegraph stated that the band “take[s] every cliche in the soul handbook and somehow turn it into a thing of beauty. [Kay] calls women ‘sexy ladies’ and says things like ‘you blow my mind’ and ‘no more wars,’ yet somehow these stale sentiments are rendered fresh and fragrant and really rather wonderful.”
A Billboard Magazine reviewer argued that “although Kaye [sic] tries to bring a modern vibe to his music, mostly he operates within ’70s parameters.” David Sinclair of The Times wrote that the band “have recorded a debut which combines youthful brio with musicianship of the very highest order. And, so long as one takes the absurdly earnest, politically correct tone of the lyrics with a sizable pinch of salt, it’s a lot of fun too.” Mark Jenkins of The Washington Post questioned the band’s socially charged lyrics, and further wrote of the album: “Derived from the lush, silky ’70s funk and soul of Philadelphia International and Stevie Wonder, Jamiroquai’s sound is about as revolutionary as a nonreturnable bottle of Pepsi.”
A year after the album’s release, Jamiroquai were nominated for Brit Award for Best New Artist, Best British Group and Best British Dance Act. Emergency on Planet Earth was nominated for Best British Album and the music video for “Too Young to Die” was nominated for Best British Video. In 1996, Mixmag placed the album at number 17 The 50 Best Dance Albums of All Time. Fnac ranked the album at 229 in its 1000 Best Albums of All Time listed it as a Key album in The Ideal Discography: 823 Indispensables Albums (2015). In their year end lists, The Face ranked it at number 14 Musikexpress at number 34. The album also was listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. (wikipedia)
Gary Barnacle (flute, saxophone)
Simon Bartholomew (guitar)
Wallis Buchanan (didgeridoo)
Richard Edwards (trombone)
Nick van Gelder (drums)
Kofi Kari Kari (percussion)
Jay Kay (vocals)
Glen Nightingale (guitar)
Maurizio Ravalico (percussion)
Toby Smith (keyboards)
John Thirkell (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Stuart Zender (bass)
DJ D-Zire (turntables)
Gavin Dodds (guitar)
Andrew Levy (bass)
Mike Smith (saxophone, flute)
Linda Lewis – Vanessa Simon
The Reggae Philharmonic Strings (strings)
01. When You Gonna Learn (Digeridoo) (Kay) 3.50
02. Too Young To Die (Kay/Smith) 6.05
03. Hooked Up (Kay/Smith) 4.35
04. If I Like It, I Do It (Kay/van Gelder) 4.52
05. Music Of The Mind (Kay/Smith) 6.22
06. Emergency On Planet Earth (Kay/Smith) 4.05
07. Whatever It Is, I Just Can’t Stop (Kay) 4.07
08. Blow Your Mind (Kay/Smith) 8.31
09. Revolution 1993 (Kay/Smith) 10.15
10. Didgin’ Out (Kay/Buchanan) 2.37
The official website: