The Tiny Desk concert series is a favorite of mine. I routinely turn to NPR Music’s YouTube channel when I’m in need of something new to listen to. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the series, the host of NPR Music’s “All Songs Considered,” Bob Boilen, created Tiny Desk Concerts as a way to host and record live performances. They take place at NPR Music’s office in D.C., and over the past 9 years, the series has featured musicians from a wide range of genres and levels of fame. I’ve been watching Tiny Desks for several years now, and I’ve seen some of my long time favorites (Death Cab for Cutie, Lianne La Havas) perform from behind Bob Boilen’s desk, as well as discovered some incredible new artists through the series. For instance, I first heard Monsieur Perine — a Colombian jazzy-upbeat band that I immediately fell in love with — through Tiny Desk.
For the past three years, the team behind Tiny Desk has offered a contest to bring new musicians to their office for a live performance and subsequent tour. Each year, they’ve brought someone equally as intriguing, and their past winners, Fantastic Negrito and Gaelynn Lea, have gone on to receive widespread recognition from their performances. I think the contest poses an exciting opportunity for bands that boast distinctive styles, as people from many walks of life watch the series, and some videos have gained millions of views. In light of my recent musical drought, I was beyond ready to hear something new, so when Tiny Desk announced this year’s contest winner on Instagram, I clicked on.
Their 2017 winner is a band called Tank and the Bangas. They hail from New Orleans, and they are unlike anything I’ve heard before. They blend R&B with jazz, funk, rock and spoken word. They made me laugh and cry in a span of twenty minutes. Above anything else, they are energetic and fun. My winter playlists are often drab and dark to fit with the distressing weather. I watched this band and felt my mood transform. The lead singer, Tarriona “Tank” Ball brings movement and expression to their music and lyrics. At some moments, she sounds like a proper soul singer; in other instances, she’s a rapper in her own right.
I was impressed by their musicality as a group. As someone who appreciates unusual chord changes and complex instrumentation, I found exactly what I was searching for in their performance. Their flutist and saxophonist, as well as their bassist, keyboardist and drummer bring talent and musical intelligence to their performances. Above all, I could see the ways in which these musicians interacted with one another as they performed.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of this group is the dynamic between Tank and her co-vocalist, Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph. They respond to each other, as if conversing through music. Bob Boilen described this by stating, “There’s a magic between Tarriona “Tank” Ball and Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph as they share singing roles, like two best friends finishing one another’s sentences,” and I couldn’t agree more. Their lyrics bring mundane objects to life. In the first song in the performance, “Boxes and Squares,” the two of them sing about meat and vegetables, among other common foods. It’s their rhyming and riffing off of one another that creates a sense of comedy and complexity to the song. Tank follows the list of objects by speaking the line “I would’ve been good for you,” encouraging us to pause and decipher the meaning behind the song. The song, still light and fresh, engaged me enough to continue watching.
Their second song, “Quick” won them the opportunity to perform at Tiny Desk. They performed it in their submission to the contest, and it’s a funky track that they’ve yet to release on Spotify. It begins with Tank rapping about a club night gone awry. It offers a very different narrative than the previous song, but like “Boxes and Squares,” it’s still full of energy. It also has a hook that I have yet to get out of my head.
The last song, “Rollercoasters,” is on their 2013 album, Think Tank. Tank started this song by narrating an experience of watching the construction of an amusement park near her home, one that never got fully created. With teary-eyes, she spoke about the magic of rollercoasters, despite the physical sensations that they bring. She likens love to the experience at the top of a roller coaster, nauseating but awe-inspiring nevertheless. This song moved me in the beauty of its imagery, as well as Tank’s vocal prowess. I was enchanted as I laughed and cried.
I’ve sent this video along to many friends and family members in the past few days, and I’ve definitely watched it at least five times since its release. Tank and the Bangas are phenomenally unique band, with so much musical talent and charisma to offer, and I can definitely see them gaining widespread acclaim from this performance and their tour with NPR Music. They’re a band worth keeping on your radar, as they offered me something I will remember and reflect on for months to come.
Anita Alur is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] Millennial Musings appears online alternate Wednesdays this semester.