Review: Jamiroquai delivers a funk masterclass at the Dubai Jazz Festival

The UK crew had the crowd dancing in what was a cool and flawless performance

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 21 FEBRUARY 2019. Jamiroquai live at the Emirates Jazz festival. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Saeed Saeed. Section: National.
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Sometimes, you need to know when to walk away.

It was a decision the UK funksters Jamiroquai took back in 2010 after their seventh album, Rock Dust Light Star, failed to connect with the masses and limped on to the charts.

Although it was impeccably produced and played, the jazz-rock sounds seemed dated and incongruent with the blazing synths and slamming beats of EDM that was dominating the landscape at the time.

Recognising that loss of cachet, an ability central to Jamiroquai’s success, the group quietly went into hiatus. Front-man Jay Kay laid down his flamboyant head gear to live a quiet family life – the odd car racing aside – while other members lent their talents to session gigs for other artists.

But seven years is a long time in the pop-music cycle. While the boys did their own thing, their signature funk and disco sounds slowly became in vogue and house music began to creep back into pop tracks once again.

The turning point arrived in 2013 with Daft Punk's masterful Random Access Memories, a record that established funk and disco as cool again.

With the French duo and collaborator, producer Pharrell Williams, acknowledging Jamiroquai as a key influence in their sound, the time was right for the group to return in 2017 with the solid album Automaton.

Back on track

The resulting tour was a major success, and included a career-defining set at last year's mammoth Coachella Festival in the US. With the boys being on the road for nearly two years, they were "a well-oiled machine" by the time they headlined the second night of the Dubai Jazz Festival on Thursday.

That description is not only a homage to Jay Kay’s love of fast cars, there is simply no other way to describe it. The boys made it look effortless over the course of an expansive two-hour set.

The musicianship on offer from the seven-piece group, who were supported by a pair of backing vocalists, was remarkably tight.

From the ebullient synths of opener Shake It Off and the sensual grooves of Little L to the pulsating bass-lines of Alright, the performance was a masterclass on the funk aesthetic.

Where rock’n’roll often revels in showmanship and individual virtuosity (whether it’s the front man or the big guitar solo), a funk group lives and dies as a unit.

This means everything is in sync and tightly coiled; funk shows are not explosive, they simmer, instead, and before you know it you are a sweaty mess.

And that’s not just the crowd, front-man Jay Kay was dripping underneath that bionic spiky helmet he wore throughout the show - its blue neon lights throbbed with intensity throughout.

It was the only individualistic statement of his performance. There was no unnecessary stage banter other the normal pleasantries, as there was too much dancing to do.

The 49-year-old understood that his role is to serve the greater funk cause, and this meant supporting the music by delivering vocals that were eerily on point.

Jay Kay’s flawless performance caused a friend - a die-hard Jamiroquai fan - at the gig to marvel at how his voice remains identical to the albums which span two decades.

It is that harmony that resonated long after the band’s riveting set.

In a music industry where, at present, charisma trumps talent and individualism is rife, Jamiroquai’s Dubai Jazz Festival appearance is a reminder that musicianship and the power of a collective can speak just as loudly.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 21 FEBRUARY 2019. Jamiroquai live at the Emirates Jazz festival. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Saeed Saeed. Section: National.

Old school charm by Keb' Mo'

Jamiroquai’s performance capped off what was a great night of music that also saw a supporting set by Keb' Mo'.

Where the UK group’s sound was large and lavish, the grizzled US bluesman kept it simple with a solo acoustic set.

With nearly 40 years in the game, the 57-year-old Mo' had plenty of material to choose from for his debut UAE appearance. He was all old-school charm with a selection that showcased his authentic take on American roots music. His plaintive playing style and weathered voice, not to mention his light hearted demeanour, made for a lovely gig of little gems with highlights being Old Me Better and As Soon as I Get Paid.

The Dubai Jazz Festival continues on Friday with its third and final major performance featuring US RnB singer Alicia Keys. Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Doors open at 6pm. Tickets begin from Dh350 at