It was Essence Festival 2017 when I first heard Tank and the Bangas. And it was about 0.02 seconds from the time the first percussion beat was played until I found myself on my feet, dancing, clapping, and mesmerized by the sound of the band and its frontwoman, Tarriona “Tank” Ball.
Born and bred in New Orleans, the five-member funk and soul music group officially formed in 2011. Tank, who first gained notoriety as a slam poet, put the band together after a chance meeting at an open mic show in NOLA, and not only is she the lead vocalist of the group, she’s also the only woman. But being a frontwoman isn’t what interests Tank, it’s helping Black women who see her image and experience her sound feel just as comfortable in their skin as she does in hers.
“As long as I’ve been living my life I never felt not special,” Tank said when asked about what her image represents in contrast to the notoriously homogeneous look that’s been deemed as acceptable in the entertainment industry. “I never felt like my skin or my hair was something that would work against me; it worked for me because it was mine and I thought it actually was what made me special and different from the person next to me. So the fact that I am brown and I’m a little thicker, that I look this way, that actually helps me.”
Like everyone, though, Tank has had moments where she didn’t feel as special. “I’ve had days, days I wasn’t used to when my hair wasn’t as big or my clothes weren’t as flashy and I felt very regular. I felt very invisible and I wondered, ‘Is this how a lot of Black women feel?’ Like a man is not paying attention to you, nobody is being super sweet or kind and, you know…damn. It’s hard to feel — it’s really wack. And if I can make somebody really know that I’m not super special and make them feel like I feel normally, then that’s what’s up because I don’t want nobody, especially no woman, to feel invisible. And that’s a real damn thing. Women really feel that way.”
But it’s hard to not see Tank as super special. In just seven years since forming the group, she and her bandmates have been able to spread their contagiously authentic funk sound all across the globe and, according to Tank, “It’s been the sh-t.” Though, for her, there’s still no place like home.
“I’ve been to Germany, Paris, London, Italy was beautiful, Spain, gorgeous– but baby when I rented a bike and I took a ride (in New Orleans) — Oh my God. When I was walking away from a yoga class and I accidentally walked in on an exercise bounce class and I walked in to four Black women who kept saying, ‘C’mon Tank, come inside!’ And I just started doing the hustle man — I don’t know what I did — but I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m home.’”
Thankfully, Tank will be staying home for the group’s next big gig. On August 9, she and the Bangas will be performing at the Aloft Hotel in downtown New Orleans as part of the chain’s artist discovery competition, Project: Aloft Star, in collaboration with Universal Music Group (UMG). The five-city tour not only celebrates UMG’s emerging artists, like Tank and the Bangas, it’s also an opportunity for aspiring musicians to get their big break, competing for an opportunity to record a single at the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood, receive mentoring from UMG executives, and 500,000 in Rewards Points which can be redeemed for Marriott International hotel stays when those gigs start rolling in.
“We knew it would be a cool, funky partnership because nobody really cares about artists in hotels,” Tank explained. “They make noise and nobody wants the music to come through, but they made it so special as to where you’re kind of comfortable in your own artsy space even while you’re in their room. I really like Aloft. The space is really cool and that’s why it’s so easy to go into partnership. They kind of welcomed us.”
As did UMG, Tank said of the group’s label. And while many artists feel they have to buckle under industry pressure and morph into some other version of themselves once they’re signed, Tank said having real friends around helps ensure she stays true to herself.
“I’m not around a bunch of yes people. My friends give it to me pretty straight most of the time. They’ll sit me down and that can be like a bunch of bricks hitting you in the face — at least that’s what it feels like to me. But they’re also super encouraging and they remind me of how I make them feel and that’s pretty special to make your friends feel a certain type of way, to make them want to keep going, to encourage them. They keep you accountable and when you’re being accountable you have to be on the right path because they’re the best mirrors you can possibly have. They’re the parts nobody claps for.”