SHAKATAK have enjoyed a level of success and a career longevity rarely paralleled in contemporary music - but then SHAKATAK are a particularly unusual group. Because of the nature of the music, their fan base is one that is very far reaching while always retaining it's "underground" element. This paradox sees the band, who are known primarily as serious jazz / funk musicians, enjoying both high 'cult' status and instant recognition as a household name. Having already garnered massive commercial achievements in the UK, SHAKATAK went on to score unprecedented successes both in Japan (for which demand dictates they produce exclusive albums every year), and in the USA. Their music simply refuses to be catergorised, a fact that has enabled them to share Festival billings with such diverse artists as Gloria Estafan (Tokyo), Dizzy Gillespie (Capital Jazz, London), Duran Duran (Montreux), and even U2 (Nuremberg)!
From their first record release (Bill Sharpe's "Steppin") in August 1980, SHAKATAK's singles and albums have charted with a consistency that is rare in the fad-conscious world of popular music. "Livin' In The UK" and "Brazilian Dawn" became top fifty singles and anthems of the emerging Brit Jazz / Funk scene, while their debut album "Drivin' Hard" became an underground hit of the early eighties.
It was the release of "Easier Said Than Done" that was to give the band the radio exposure they needed for their first Top Twenty hit. This record introduced SHAKATAK's unique instrumental-unison vocal sound to a much wider audience and was destined to remain on the charts for an incredible 17 weeks.
The follow up, "Night Birds", was the band's first single to crack the Top 10, and the album of the same name gave SHAKATAK their first gold disc, entering at No. 4 and remaining on the charts for almost 6 months. Perhaps of greater significance, it was this album that finally broke the group as an international act, giving them a number one jazz album slot in Japan and attracting interest in Europe and South America. During this period the band were touring extensively, playing a total of 132 concerts in Europe and Japan in 1982 alone.
Two more albums, "Invitations" and "Out Of This World", were recorded in 1982 and 1983 resulting in several more chart hits before the next major stage in the band's evolution. This involved vocalist Jill Saward coming forward as lead vocalist on their fifth album "Down On The Street" - this LP spawned two further hits, the title track and "Watching You".
1984 saw the release of a live album recorded in Tokyo and London, while the next studio album "Day By Day", clearly demonstrated the development of the band's songwriting, with all members contributing. The highlight of this album was Jill's duet on the title track with Al Jarreau.
Meanwhile the Japanese success story was going from strength to strength, seeing the group firmly established in the Top 5 foreign acts and winning the coveted Silver Award at the Tokyo International Song Festival. By this time SHAKATAK had already produced two exclusive albums for Japan, "Into The Blue" and "Golden Wings", the latter scooping 'Best Instrumental Album 1987' slot at the Japanese Phonograph Record Association Awards. Their next two Japanese albums, "Da Makani" and "Niteflite", repeated this success bringing the tally to an incredible three consecutive awards 1987-9.
This period also saw the world-wide release of the album "Manic and Cool", which contained the singles "Mr. Manic and Sister Cool" and "Something Special".
Tragedy struck the band at this time when guitarist and founder member Keith Winter became seriously ill and was forced to stop playing. It took Keith a long while to redirect his energies but he is now part of a company specialising in providing internet services. He is in fact responsible for the website you are looking at now!
The next international album, 1989's "Turn The Music Up" was supported by two highly successful shows at London's legendary Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club and European dates that culminated in the first 'East Meets West' concert at The Berlin Wall on New Year's Eve, 1989.
The new decade of the 90's, brought the challenge of keeping the sound of the band contemporary, without loosing it's unique qualities . The release of the album "Perfect Smile" answered the questions, by achieving Top 10 status on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart in March '91 (...an eclectic mix of breezy jazz, cool electricity, and sultry vocals"...."a mind boggling collection of accolades" - R&R Magazine, U.S.A.), whilst the album "Bitter Sweet" attracted rave reviews in Europe (..."a perfect back-drop for sophisticated jazzy ventures"...."forceful dance beats to jazz roots" - Q Magazine. In 1992, the group repeated their American success, with the album "Open Your Eyes" climbing to position 12 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart, and they continued their commitment to live performance with tours throughout Europe and the Far East.
Entering 1993 with the album "Street Level", the band departed on a trail blazing tour of South Africa with the full blessing of the S.A. Association of Musicians. After completing 5 sell out shows in Cape Town and Durban, the band finished the tour in the 6,000 capacity Standard Bank Arena, Jo'Burg, attracting rave reviews from the press - "the acid test of any international groups is their ability to translate their recorded sound on stage, British band SHAKATAK are past masters in this art.....one of the most scintillating live performances I have seen."
The highlight of the Summer was the bill sharing, open air concert with George Benson at Highlands Park in the UK, and other successes included the Sopot Music Festival in Poland, and the Hannover Festival in Germany.
October saw the release of the album "Under The Sun" - "A decade down the line, SHAKATAK are swinging more than ever and with perhaps even heavier jazz influences than before......they've built up a healthy international reputation" (Blues & Soul - Nov 93). The year ended with the special release of "The Christmas Album", featuring jazz-funk versions of the classic Christmas repertoire.
The first quarter of 1994 saw the band spend necessary time out for the development of a forthcoming international tour and the recording of a fresh album. This culminated in the release of FULL CIRCLE in October. The album was a departure in part from traditional jazz funk, and managed to create a new culture by blending their contemporary jazz development with bold 90's beats, polished with the band's inevitable melodic qualities. This was further enhanced by a few select guest appearances from some great jazz funksters, with the likes of RONNIE LAWS, SNOWBOY, DON GRUSIN, TONY REMY and LONNIE LISTON SMITH.
The album was preceded by the release of the single BRAZILIAN LOVE AFFAIR - a superb reworking of the George Duke classic from 1980 - the year SHAKATAK burst onto the scene.
The single and album were ably supported by an international tour, which commenced in Germany, followed by a string of UK dates. Immediately after the Far East beckoned, with a three week tour of Japan which included prestigious dates at the famous Blue Note venues. In the run up to Christmas, a two week outing in South Africa, completed the live shows for '94.
1995 saw the band take a well earned break, while plans were in the making for a tour of South East Asia, where the band had not played for a long period. The tour was preceded with SHAKATAK's only UK date in '95, being a special for the keyboard giants Technics.
July to September saw the band play extensive dates in Indonesia, Thailand and The Philippines, recapturing the success achieved in the early 80's.
On their return a well earned break was taken to enable the band to take a step back and evaluate their direction. 1996 saw the band perform UK shows and concentrate on writing for the new album. The last half of 1996 was spent developing new ideas and recording the new album "LET THE PIANO PLAY." The result is a great album which blends the traditional strong melodic jazz funk sound with a new vibrant groove for 1997.
On the live front, the band were invited to perform a concert in Moscow, Russia and they were genuinely overwhelmed by their reception. The most amazing thing was that the audience obviously knew all of the material performed, and a great night was had by all. The success of this show led to performances in Estonia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
In 1998 a further two CD's were added to the bands growing discography. The studio recording " View From The City" was produced and the "Live At Ronnie Scott's" CD appeared, again emphasising the groups commitment to live performances.
Concerts were arranged throughout the UK and Europe to support these releases. Approaching the millenium and Shakatak's 20th Anniversary, 1999 is promising to be another busy year. Trips to Japan, Russia and Germany have already been completed and the band look forward to a Summer of Festivals in Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland and the UK.