The band's script and "Buffalo Man"
logo, designed by Kay
Jason "Jay" Kay, a nightclub worker, began his musical career by 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 himself 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 because Smith "had a tendency to play these very ravey[,] acid housey chords." 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.
1992–1999: International breakthrough
In 1992, Jamiroquai began their career by performing in the British club scene, and released "When You Gonna Learn" as their debut single, which 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", he was 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. In 1993, Stuart Zender became the group's bassist by audition. Emergency on Planet Earth, was released in the same year and was described by an AllMusic reviewer as "a psychedelic melange of tight funky rhythms, acid rock intimations, and '70s soul melodies." It reached the UK albums chart at number 1, and sold 1.3 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.
performing with Jamiroquai in the mid-1990s
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 said to be "played by humans, not samplers", according to Josef Woodard from Entertainment Weekly. 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. Another album single, "Stillness in Time", peaked at number 9 in the UK top-ten chart. 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." The album single "Virtual Insanity" became popular for its music video; and it sold 356,000 copies and had been streamed 4.5 million times as of 2014. "Virtual Insanity" was also number 1 in both Italy and Iceland. It was preceded by "Cosmic Girl", which 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 Travelling Without Moving, the group gave an international tour including the UK, Japan, Australia, Brazil and the US. Prior to Travelling Without Moving, Jamiroquai contributed to the 1996 single, "Do You Know Where You're Coming From?" by British jungle-beat artist M-beat. In November 1997, Jamiroquai played as an opening act for the Rolling Stones at a Las Vegas show.
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 while 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.
2001–2011: A Funk Odyssey–Rock Dust Light Star
Jamiroquai performing at the Congress Theater in Chicago in 2005
The group issued their 2001 follow-up, A Funk Odyssey. The album was primarily a disco record that 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", at 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 2005 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.
Jamiroquai performing in Sofia, Bulgaria in June 2013
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.