In 2017, Tank and the Bangas seemed to transition from exciting New Orleans up-and-comers to international stars overnight. After Tarriona “Tank” Ball and company won NPR Music‘s 2017 Tiny Desk Contest with their viral performance of “Quick”, they headed to the NPR offices to claim their prize: an official Tiny Desk Concert of their own. That set went viral, too, introducing Tank and the Bangas to the world and cementing them as one of the most popular guests in the acclaimed series with over 12 million views and counting.
But like all “overnight” success stories, Tank and the Bangas’ ascent to global acclaim did not actually happen overnight. In fact, the band had been steadily growing its audience for over six years before that Tiny Desk Concert appearance.
After meeting at an open mic night at the now-closed Blackstar Cafe in the Algiers section of New Orleans, LA, the group founded and fronted by Tarriona “Tank” Ball spent the next half-decade-writing songs, touring across the United States and the United Kingdom, and truly honing a supremely unique and captivating sound: as described by 2017 Tiny Desk Contest judge Trey Anastasio (Phish), “Tank and the Bangas is like a psychedelic joy rap explosion. Like a female Sly Stone teleporting into 2017 and landing in New Orleans.”
Though Tank was clearly destined for a life in music, it wasn’t always something she thought she’d get to do professionally. As the singer-songwriter told Live For Live Music during a recent interview, “I wanted to be a teacher. I went to school [for teaching] and I taught… I did a lot of teaching and that was cool for a long time.” But the universe had other plans for Tarriona Ball.
While she grew up in the musical epicenter of New Orleans, Tank admits that the Big Easy’s music culture was not her primary stylistic touchpoint growing up. She brushed shoulders with some of the great local singers of her generation a member of school choirs, she explained, but it was neither them nor the city’s long list of influential musicians throughout history who initially guided her artistic path.
Instead, she counted an wide range of artists like Kirk Franklin, the acclaimed gospel choir director, Selena, the Queen of Tejano music, ’90s R&B hitmakers like SWV and Faith Evans, and soul icons like Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder, and Peabo Bryson as her early vocal influences. Most of all, she was influenced by her family. “My sisters… they had to be my number one inspiration because all my sisters sang and my dad sang,” she recalled. “So, I just was trying to mimic them all the time.”
Still, living in New Orleans certainly had an effect on Ball. There are very few cities in the country, or even in the world, that have developed such a culture around music. It’s a place where music and culture are so deeply ingrained that the art form materializes in the very fabric of the city. Whether intentional or not, bands and artists that come up through New Orleans reflect that Big Easy attitude and charm.
“I think it’s the history, the fact that once a lot of the Africans were here, a lot of them were free, you know?” Ball opined. “And even the ones that were slaves, they had a [sense of] freedom here. They had a date to be in Congo Square to dance, and to sing, and to trade, and to be amongst each other. So it’s just something about this place that feels like you’re overseas when you’re here. We kept a lot of our architecture and a lot of the history is important to us. The Indians, the calls, the chants, the way that music is just on the streets all the time, free for you. So, it’s like you’re selling a feeling, but you’re also giving it away for free all at the same time.”
Over the last few years, Tank and The Bangas have become a defining voice in the contemporary New Orleans music scene, working with everyone from funk outfit/Tipitina’s owners Galactic to bounce queen Big Freedia. Tank will link up with yet another group of modern NOLA tastemakers, genre-bending brass band The Soul Rebels, to bring that indescribable Big Easy magic to Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore, PA on Wednesday, November 17th [get tickets].
The one-off performance at the Philadelphia-area club, part of The Soul Rebels’ Epic Vibes Tour, will mark the band’s first-ever live collaboration with Ball in the Philly area, though they have maintained a close creative relationship for years.
“I met The Soul Rebels years ago,” Tank reminisced. “I remember when I first heard about The Soul Rebels and all the amazing touring that they were doing, and we weren’t touring like that at all. And we just thought that they were so lucky and we used to tell them, ‘You all so lucky, you all get to tour.’ And they was like, ‘Oh man, you’ll see.’ And we did see that. Of course, it’s an honor to tour, it really is, but it’s also an honor to be home. And then when you tour you realize that you stay away from home a lot and you begin to miss home. So I didn’t understand what they meant at the time, but I do now.”
As far as what fans can expect from the collaboration between Tank and The Soul Rebels, Ball put it bluntly: “I think it’s going to be really, really, really dope.”
“I don’t feel the same as to where I’m playing just with my regular band,” she added, “but I love that The Rebels allow me to always be myself… I feel they definitely are just like a New Orleans band in a sense where they’re going to bring New Orleans with them everywhere they go. I love the way they entertain the crowd. And I love it when I see each one on stage, I know I’m going to see them. I know they’re going to consistently be there and show off for their fans. And I love to see it. It’s going to be my first time in Philly with The Soul Rebels particularly, and I’m really excited about it because Philly is so special.”
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Much like The Soul Rebels “bring New Orleans with them everywhere they go,” Tank and the Bangas will carry a little NOLA with them to Denver Comes Alive at Denver, CO’s Mission Ballroom on Saturday, December 4th [get tickets here].
Like all of Live For Live Music‘s “Comes Alive” festivals and virtual events, Denver Comes Alive aims to channel the creative magic of New Orleans Jazz Fest after dark—a sorely missed season during Jazz Fest’s COVID-imposed two-year hiatus. Playing alongside an eclectic mix of artists like Circles Around The Sun, Judith Hill, and Ramble On Revival—a new Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Company), guitarists Steve Kimock (Phil Lesh & Friends) and Eric Krasno (Soulive), keyboardist Holly Bowling (Ghost Light), drummer Jeff Sipe (Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit), saxophonist Skerik, and vocalist/trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band)—Tank and the Bangas will lend the Mile High proceedings a bit of bayou magic.
While they have given performances for virtual events like Justice Comes Alive and Georgia Comes Alive, Tank and the Bangas’ appearance at Denver Comes Alive 2021 will allow them to show off their versatility and unmatched onstage charisma to the “Comes Alive” faithful live and in-person for the very first time.
For the Denver Comes Alive performance, Tank plans to lock in with her outfit and see where the Rocky Mountain energy takes them. “When [the band’s] on stage together, naturally things just change, you know?” Ball said. “I’m never going to sing songs exactly the same, the band’s not going to play it exactly the same, so it’s always going to feel different. That’s a natural thing and also a rehearsal thing that we do because if we’re on tour for all these days, most of our time out of the year, then we want to keep it fresh. We want to keep it fun to our own selves and not just the fans.”
For a full list of Tarriona “Tank” Ball’s upcoming tour dates, head here.