New Orleans’ longstanding reputation as the most vibrant city in the US—musically and otherwise—has truly stood the test of time. As the home of jazz, it’s no surprise that many of history’s greatest musicians come from New Orleans (Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and Fats Domino, to name just a few). The list of New Orleans jazz legends is extensive, which has probably contributed to the assumption that there’s not much room in New Orleans for new music—that it’s a place for the replication and preservation of pure jazz and blues, rather than a space for musical innovation. New Orleans group Tank and the Bangas prove that the opposite is true. Just as the creation of jazz was the result of mixing cultures and musical styles, Tank and the Bangas have created a unique blend of contemporary styles that defies the confines of genre and reminds us that great music can speak to anyone and everyone.

Tank and the Bangas have been carving out a place in the industry for themselves since the drop of their first full-length album, Think Tank, in 2013. Their sound—a blend of soul, jazz, gospel, funk, hip-hop, and what can only be described as *sparkle*—can be hard to place, but the feeling you get from listening isn’t. It’s straight-up joy. Songs like “Spaceships” and “Boxes and Squares” will have you smiling and bopping your head uncontrollably. However, their whimsical, comical, playful, and at-times-childish nature is not to be confused for lack of depth. Lead singer and lyricist Tarriona “Tank” Ball (her silky-smooth voice is best heard on “Ripperton Love”) got her start performing as a slam poet. This background can definitely be heard in the poetic nature of the band’s lyrics and the structure of songs like “Rollercoasters” and “Oh Heart.” Their half-sung, half-spoken style feels like the perfect intersection of music and storytelling. Tank and the Bangas have a unique ability to string together poetic lyrics and intricate melodies to create art that cuts straight to your heart. They don’t shy away from vulnerability or try to force authenticity; they’re effortlessly genuine, which is perhaps their greatest strength.

Tank and the Bangas perform in Brooklyn; photo by Mike Katzif [NPR]
Since being named the winners of NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest (check out their concert here), Tank and the Bangas have been building momentum and are currently touring off the release of their 2018 singles, “Smoke.Netflix.Chill.,” and “Spaceships.” What’s coming after their tour (which wraps up in March) isn’t clear yet. No doubt, whatever it is will be colorful, fresh, and fearless, and will encourage us to see more beauty in the world, just as the band illustrated the beauty of fear in “Rollercoasters:”

It’s the butterflies, and the fireflies, fighting in my stomach

I’m scared to fly, I might come down

I think I’m ready now

I’m getting back in line