We speak to the group about their assured new album, the 'Coachella-effect' and putting the UAE on their busy touring schedule
The return of funk: Jamiroquai has plans for a UAE gig next year
They were Coachella’s 2018 good news story. Each year, the mega music festival in the US provides a huge platform to a band formerly absent or under-appreciated. In April, that group was Jamiroquai, who took to the stage to perform tracks from 2017's Automaton, their first album in seven years.
It was a heroic performance: the UK pop-funk group had the 100,000-strong crowd dancing along to a string of hits, including the groove ridden Canned Heat and the cosmic pop of Virtual Insanity. They played tunes from their expansive 25-year career, in addition to welcoming guest performer Snoop Dogg.
Hip-hop fans took to social media to express their surprise at the appearance, but the influential rapper made the esteem he holds the London band in clear. “When your name came up to perform with I was like ‘yes, we are doing this. Period,” he said in a social media video of him hanging with the band post Coachella performance.
“I don’t mess with Coachella often, but for you, I will do it.”
This capped off a brilliant comeback for Jamiroquai, who admit the “Coachella effect” is real, with US shows then sold out as a result.
A UAE tour next year?
Drummer Derrick McKenzie says plans are being made for the band to bring their funk odyssey to the UAE. “Oh yes there are definitely talks to head back over there,” he said before the band’s performance at Morocco’s Mawazine Festival on Sunday.
“It will be next year, as this year we are tied up with other shows, but we are making plans to head your way. We always have a great time playing in the UAE.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the group’s percussionist Sola Akingbola, who still remembers the group’s sole Abu Dhabi performance as part of the capital’s inaugural grand prix in 2009. “Man that was a mad gig,” he says.
“I remember just walking around that race-track and checking out the race and I was like ‘this is crazy.’”
Frontman Jay Kay says the band are presently in a good place mentally and musically. The break between albums allowed them to recalibrate, and then release an album that stays true to Jamiroquai’s aesthetic of blending old school funk with futuristic electronica.
“It’s difficult for us to stray far from what we do because I just think your style is your style,” he says.
“But recently I sat down and I heard all our albums right back from the beginning, which is something I haven’t done before and I did notice they all have their own vibes and different level of complexities.”
When it comes to Automaton, the eighth album finds the band at their most assured. While there are no stylistic left turns, there is plenty to enjoy via a good pair of headphones – particularly with the sonic interplay between the old and new.
The steamy funk of Shake It On and the acid-jazz stylings of Vitamin are multi-layered treats with analogue sounding keyboards, throbbing bass lines and glistening, modern-sounding percussion.
That blending of the past and the future is a definite motif throughout the album confirms keyboardist Matt Johnson, who co-wrote all the tracks with Jay Kay.
“That move is something that I can say was definitely instigated by me,” he says.
“I was working with a lot of modern music at the time, and I just wanted to take that direction with the band. The thing is that it all comes to the drums. If they sound absolutely banging, then the song immediately sounds more temporary. Then it allows you to add other more organic sounds to the mix. I think we did that with the album.”
Jamiroquai is a team effort
With Kay being an arresting front-man, not to mention his penchant for wearing outlandish head-gear on stage, it is easy to think Jamiroquai is a solo project for the 48-year-old.
But five of the seven-piece group have been in the mix for over 10 years. After Kay, who co-founded the band in 1992, it is McKenzie who has spent the longest time in the group, having joined just after the release of their acclaimed 1993 debut album Emergency on Planet Earth.
“It is a very collaborative process and we all work well together and add our own ideas,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why the band is together and why people enjoy the live shows.”
Indeed, if you need proof that Jamiroquai is a group endeavour, you need to witness them on stage as all band members seamlessly work together to unleash one hot funk groove after another.
Paul Turner, who is the group’s unsung hero with his delicious bass lines, is happy to let Jay Kay take all the lime light.
“We know what we are doing,” he says.
“Collaboration is certainly a strong point of the band because we co-write and play together. That said, each group needs to have leader and Jay is ours.”
Check out a slice of Jamiroquai's Mawazine performance...
Check out Arts & Culture for all the latest news and interviews from The Mawazine Festival in Morocco. The festival continues until June 30