As eclectic as the New Orleans music scene is, it’s still hard to imagine an artist having a more diverse career than Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, who, at the age of 31, sings in three bands that could hardly be more different.
Until recently, she was primarily known for her role as the backing vocalist and self-described “hype-man” for the wildly eclectic Tank and The Bangas, who are one of the five nominees for this year’s Best New Artist Grammy (see cover story). But now, Joseph is also commanding center stage as lead vocalist for the funk-jazz jam band Galactic, a role she took on last summer when Erica Falls left the group to focus on her solo career.
And, as if all that weren’t enough, Joseph is also the lead singer of The Original Pinettes, the New Orleans all-female brass band that was founded back in 1991 and currently performs every Friday night at Bullets Sports Bar in the heart of the 7th Ward.
Joseph was in the 12th grade when she made her public debut as a singer, performing the solo vocal on “O Holy Night” with her high school choir during the Celebration in the Oaks Festival at New Orleans City Park. By 2015, she was singing in Bourbon Street clubs, performing with the upstart Tank and The Bangas, and singing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” on the season debut of American Idol.
In addition to her proven vocal talent, Joseph also has an ebullient personality coupled with an ever-changing wardrobe that, on the day of this interview, included camouflage-green hair, a shirt emblazoned with a furry pink-maned unicorn, platform boots, and a chakra bracelet her aunt gave her that she never takes off.
In the following interview, the singer discusses her eclectic career, how she connects with crowds, and what it’s like to make Katy Perry cry.
Let’s start out with a question about your American Idol experience. If you had actually gone on to win, do you think the opportunities that would have opened up for you would be nearly as interesting as the ones you’ve found on your own?
Honestly, I only did American Idol just to prove to myself that I could do American Idol. I didn’t have any intention of going there to win. I really didn’t. I went because I wanted to get that fear out of me. I wanted to prove something to myself more than for the competition, you know what I mean? Because I’d never competed before, like vocally, and I thought it would be something good to do.
Plus, Katy Perry cried when you weren’t picked to go on to the next round.
She did. The judges when I was there were J-Lo, Keith Urban and Katy Perry. And she was so sweet to me—I don’t even understand why—she just kind of gravitated to me like that. And once I got eliminated, she cried, and I was like, “Stop crying, because I don’t want to cry.” Because I wasn’t sad about it; I came as far as I was supposed to go in that competition. So finishing in their top 40 was great for me. I proved something to myself, and that was important to me.
How did you first hook up with Tank and The Bangas? Did you know each other growing up?
No, I actually met Tank when we were both going to Southern University at New Orleans. I’ll never forget it. I saw her on the campus, and she just had this big personality, and I have a big personality, and I was like, I want to be her friend! And we’ve been friends ever since.
When did you first hear her recite her poetry?
It was on campus. I wasn’t a big fan of poetry back then. I’m still probably not; I don’t like to listen to that shit all the time. But Tank is one of the only poets that I can actually sit through a set. So she did a poem on campus one day, and then I decided to go check her out at Loyola, where she gave a small performance. And I was like, “Girl, I don’t even like poetry, but I like what you’re doing.” She’s great, and she’s grown so much since then, both as a poet and as a musician, period. She’s just awesome.
I understand you used to play clubs on Bourbon Street. What was that like for you?
That was where I got one of my first steady gigs. I was one of the lead singers in a band that played every Monday through Friday night, which was good training for me. We would play all night, from seven in the evening to maybe one o’clock in the morning. At that time, smoking was still allowed in the clubs, and guys with big cigars would sit in front of the stage and just blow cigar smoke right at you, and so you’re coughing while you’re trying to sing.
And then you’d have to leave your clothes out on the porch when you got home, right?
Um-hmm. I’d leave all my stuff up on the porch, I’d put all my hair on the porch, everything had to go out on the porch, because that’s how strong the smell was.
Wait, you put all your hair up on the porch. How does that work?
Oh, you heard what I said.
Uh-huh. I’d take it all, put it on the porch, throw my clothes on the porch…
So this isn’t your hair?
No! That’s another thing about me, too. I change my hair a lot, like every two days. However I’m feeling that day, that’s what my hair feels. I just came over here from a Galactic rehearsal, and they were just laughing at me, because yesterday my hair was long and blond, and today it’s like this.
But your hair changes haven’t been as dramatic as Tank’s.
Oh, no. That’s her thing. You know, we grew up around here, we grew up pretty Black girls, so we are used to seeing everybody in the ‘hood doing freaky stuff with their hair. And when I first met Tank, that’s when we started wearing the big hair. And she was like, “Is this too big?” I said, “It’s never too big. [laughs.] Never, ever, ever.” It’s an energy, you know? It’s a thing that’s a part of us.
At Tank shows, you’re incredibly good at working the crowd. What’s your secret?
It’s because I literally love what I do. I’m a singer, but I also consider myself a hype-man, you know? I love getting other people to feel what I’m feeling when we’re up there. And it’s a special thing when you connect with a crowd. So I pride myself on being, you know, that person. But then when I get down off the stage, I’m the most introverted person in the world.
That’s kind of hard to believe.
It’s the performance element. It’s like some part of me comes forward onstage, a part of me that I don’t have in regular life.
How did the opportunity to join Galactic come about?
I met them through Erica Falls, because I was singing with her for a while. So I started singing background with Galactic a few years ago, when they had Macy Gray and Erica Falls doing leads. And then last summer, when Erica decided to go off and do her own thing, they were in need of a new lead singer, and they felt like I could handle it, you know? And I totally appreciate that. They’re like the older brothers I never knew I needed.
From a musical perspective, Galactic and Tank and The Bangas are obviously very different. What’s it like moving back and forth between the two?
The only problem I have, which is not even a big problem, is just learning all the lyrics, because I have a whole bunch of lyrics with Tank and The Bangas and a whole bunch more with Galactic. So it’s just trying to etch in stone what is what, and who is who, and kind of go with the flow of everything. It’s so exciting and frightening at the same time, and I’m having so much fun.
And now I’m also writing, which I haven’t had a lot of experience with, so I’m really excited about it. They work with some awesome writers, including [experimental performance artist] Boyfriend. I’ve actually done my first recording with Galactic—it’s called “Float Up”—and she wrote the song and was at the studio when they recorded it. She helped me so much in the studio with my delivery and being able to get across the point of the song. She is just a joy to work with, and they are, too.
And, in addition to all that, you’re still with The Original Pinettes. Tell me about that.
Well, they didn’t start off with a singer, but I’m good friends with the trumpet player Veronique Dorsey. And she just kind of reached out to me and said, “Hey, our bandleader is looking for a lead singer, are you interested?” With most brass bands, it’s all about hearing the instruments. But including lead vocals creates this crazy mixture that pretty much nobody’s ever done, because nobody had ever thought of it. So they’re at Bullets every Friday, whether I’m there with them or not. It’s one of my favorite gigs to do, because it’s so freeing. I’m just so blessed to be able to work with so many different types of artists, because that’s what keeps me sharp, you know?
So having come this far after 30 years, what do you expect to be doing 30 years from now?
Hopefully, I’ll still be doing music. I’m just so grateful to be part of it. I don’t care in what capacity I’m doing it. I don’t care if I’m singing background, or if I’m singing lead, or just behind the scenes telling people what to sing. I don’t care what it is. I want to be a part of this.