Tank and the Bangas at Jazz Cafe: The future of spoken word, hip hop and jazz all in one

Since seeing off 6000 others to win the 2017 NPR Music Tiny Desk competition, Tank and the Bangas have continually grown in popularity. And for good reason. Their theatrical, semi-improvised, poetic live show at the Jazz Café was unlike anything else and a complete joy to witness. A seamless mix of jazz, hip-hop and neo-soul backed up lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball who took the crowd on a rollercoaster journey of New Orleans storytelling. 

The show started with The Dylema Collective: another group who blur the lines between genres. The poet Dylema sets her evocative spoken word against a funk-jazz backing. Their songs violently switched from funny and endearing with lines like “He said women don’t enjoy sex as much as men do… I said no… you’re just shit”, to powerful and thought-provoking commentary on racial and sexual inequality.

Tank and the Bangas’ show started with a rising atmospheric instrumental. The band perfectly managed the crowd, building layer upon layer of sound until Tank and co-vocalist Jelly emerged on stage to a rapturous audience. Tank appeared as an actor playing a character, seemingly confused and full of wonder as if surprised by the presence of an audience. This character quickly broke as the band exploded into a heavy hip-hop instrumental and Tank started rapidly, aggressively rapping over songs like the award-winning single ‘Quick’.

Switching between characters was a common motif for Tank who took on a plethora of voices. One second she was squeaky and childish; the next, emotional, thought-provoking and hard-hitting. There were numerous references to hip-hop with a shout-out to Kendrick Lamar as Tank rapped the hook from ‘untitled 07 | Levitate’. There was also a cover of Anderson .Paak’s ‘Come Down’ – another artist who refuses to be pinned down to a single genre. The energy of the set was incredible; the band and audience fed off each other in a symbiosis that often rose to a fever pitch. This heavier section of the set was then displaced by emotional soulful spoken word from Tank with more sensitive songs such as ‘Oh Heart’. The set ended with ‘Rollercoasters’ which left Tank practically in tears.

Throughout the set, the band’s enjoyment was joyous and genuine, acting like childhood friends as much as bandmates. This was most apparent in the interaction between Tank and her co-vocalist Jelly. The two have been friends since college and it shows; they sing together like twins finishing one another’s sentences.

This spontaneity and strength of character matches that of jazz’s new stars such as Robert Glasper and Thundercat, who are charismatic both on and off the stage. The spontaneity of the show and the power of the music was a joy from start to finish. The lines between jazz, hip-hop and spoken word have never been thinner and Tank and the Bangas exemplified this perfectly.


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