Jacob Banks, Force of Nature

This voice could shatter an iceberg.

Jacob Banks, a 26-year-old singer hailing from Birmingham, England, replicates the waves of the ocean with his rich, earthy voice. Banks was born in Nigeria before he moved to the UK at the age of thirteen, and his music contains colorful rhythms and resounding vocals that echo African music. Since he began singing and songwriting at the age of twenty, Banks has cultivated a unique sound that brings in his experiences from both Nigeria and England with lyrical work that discusses love, society, and identity.

I was an unsuspecting spectator at San Francisco’s annual Outside Lands Music Festival, not originally planning to catch his set; however, from the second he stepped onto the stage in striped shirt, plaid pants, and a sunny yellow North Face jacket, he commanded the audience’s attention.

Banks released his latest EP, The Boy Who Cried Freedom,  in April of 2017, with the songs “Chainsmoking” and “Unholy War” rising to popularity among fans. “Unholy War” starts with a heavy piano build-up to his raw vocals, and the laid-back, three-four rhythm evokes an R&B feel similar to Nina Simone’s version of the popular song “I Put A Spell On You.” As Banks transitions into the chorus line– “you better run”– the music drops, maintaining the steady drum beat as electric guitar and textured synths pour in, simulating high-running vocals. “Chainsmoking” begins with lone vocals and a drum beat, then dropping into swelling synths and tugging guitar, and resolving into resonant piano chords as Banks builds up to the next repeat of the chorus, bringing in a synth track to back the melody as he sings.

Banks’s Outside Lands performance featured both of these songs as well as tracks from his other EPs, The Paradox (2015) and The Monologue (2013). His soulful voice filled the large stage, drifting across the mist that had started to creep into the small valley. As I listened from my place on the hill, I could feel my spirit being drawn out from the edge of my spine and sent soaring towards the sea on the back of one of the many dragonflies that had gathered since Banks had begun his set. I was pleasantly surprised when he spoke for the first time in between songs; while his singing voice could cause a volcanic eruption, his speaking voice reminds me of the bottom of a riverbed– deep, reverberating, and flowing, but more secure than the rushing surface.

With a broad range of experiences and a wide scope for musical variation, Jacob Banks promises to continue on as a true force of nature. Seeing him sing live was transformative, and his music is among the best to blast in the car. His voice is captivating, and the build and drop of each of his songs creates a mountain range waiting to be explored.

By Arya Natarajan

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