Jammin’ with Jamiroquai

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By Lee Fay

“At the end of the day it’s a jazz fusion, jazz funk — a mish-mash.”

This is how Stuart Zender, bassist for the British band Jamiroquai (a combinations of “jam” as in jamming and “Iroquai” as in “the misspelling of” the Native American Iroquois tribe), described his band’s sound at a press conference last Friday. They’d played a sold-out show at the Warehouse the night before as part of a North American “mini-tour.”

Personally, I think the mish-mash part is the most telling, as nebulous as that may be.

Their new third album, Travelling Without Moving, features songs that are distinctly Disco (“Cosmic Girl” and “Alright”), distinctly reggae (“Drifting Along”) and a couple that show the band’s fascination with exotic instruments ( “Didgerama” and “Digital Vibrations” feature an Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo).

And then there are the lyrics that range from comments on the state of the world (“It’s a wonder men can eat at all when things are big that should be small”) to ultra-cheese (“You know I need your touch honey/I want your touch honey/Like the morning sun had just begun”).

Regardless of how much the music and lyrics change from song to song, thanks to frontman Jay Kay’s voice, every song is distinctly Jamiroquai.

Since day one everyone seemed to want to point out the uncanny similarity between Kay’s voice and that of Stevie Wonder’s. At the conference a girl pipes up with this revelation and the three (of six) band members who showed up (Zender, keyboardist Toby Smith and drummer Derrick McKenzie) lean back, pat their mouths and yawn loudly in sync.

“That’s a bit old hat,” says Smith. “It’s quite odd because we’re getting all the same questions we were getting the first year and we think, oh, everybody’s forgot about that and now we can move on. And then… no! Not again. Ultimately Jay is very flattered to have his name with Stevie Wonder’s in the same sentence. But it doesn’t really matter.”

Travelling Without Moving has gone double-platinum in Canada — something that Smith attributes to the nature of Canadians in general. “Canada’s quite European in some respects,” he says. “It’s not as segregates as America. We are a multi-racial band and we get accepted [in Canada]. You only have to look up at the crowd last night and see how multi-racial it is. Everybody, all walks and types of getting down and having a good time.”

Then there’s the less harmonious suggestion that “people have had too much of the ‘britpop’ and they want something fresh now,” as Zender adds.

A question about drugs (which are, not surprisingly, the subject of the song “High Times”) is swiftly avoided by Zender with: “You do meet some right interesting people.” I suppose we’re to read what we will into that.

When asked why they didn’t opt for a more trendy/can’t lose/make-the-big-money-quick-and-retire kind of sound Smith says they are “in it for the longevity” and not interested in being that kind of flavour-of-the-month band that is so common in Britain. At least he could say this with confidence, knowing that his band has a fat eight-album deal with Sony.

And what is next for the Jamiroquai lads? “Thrash-punk-trance” is Smith’s prediction, although it was pretty clear he was joking.

I predict we’ll be hearing some more mish-mash.

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