Letting Yourself Fly: Tank and The Bangas

The stars all aligned for me one day browsing Youtube’s recommended page as I came across the winners of the 2017 Tiny Desk Concert, Tank and The Bangas. I can only say that my life changed after watching their performance.

Fronted by Tarriona “Tank” Ball on lead vocals, the band combines spoken-word poetry into their sound. The full band consists of Joshua Johnson (musical director and drummer), Merell Burkett (keyboardist), Norman Spence (keyboardist and bassist), and Albert Allenback (saxophonist and flutist). Sometimes, they are accompanied by other musicians and back-up vocalists, including Angelika ‘Jelly’ Joseph and Kayla Jasmine.

Their background plays a large influence in their music. They are a New Orleans based R&B-Funky-Soul band formed in 2011. The band is made up of black New Orleans-ers, with the exception of Allenback. They combine R&B with Hip-Hop’s poetry component to develop a sort of flamboyant storytelling. The musicians in the group mention a variety of genres they identify with, including Rock, Folk, Gospel, and Joseph's invention of “Soulful Disney;” the group has also mentioned anime as influence on the group's "childlike" and "magical" sensibility.

The group’s playfully inviting energy is unarguably due to Tank, the group’s front-woman Her exquisite fashion sense cannot go unmentioned as it adds a new dimension to their live performances. She dresses in bright colors and wears her hair as big as her personality. In an interview with StyleLikeU, a Youtube channel dedicated to exploring how true style is the result of self-acceptance, she discusses the difficulty in coming to terms with her body. She feels the most beautiful when using her style as a way of exaggerating and celebrating her blackness, saying, “to have so much melanin is so special. I have to make it count.”

Her ability to confess her intimate feelings in an ethereally sung poetry is captivating. She incorporates humor and native folklore in “Quick,” the winning song for NPR Tiny Desk Contest. Bob Boilen describes it as "a sort of modern day take on a great folk tale, but peppered with their own idiosyncratic flair and humor.” Much like Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade, Quick’s music video is a vital component to the song’s essence. It opens up with a mother voicing her concerns to her daughter and warning her to stay off the streets, then it features different bodies and specific details on each person’s body while never showing the face, a key component in the songs message. Unlike Sublime’s “Date Rape,” “Quick” never comes out and says the word explicitly, but it is implied.

My favorite song by them is “Rollercoasters.” After the devastation that hit New Orleans during and after hurricane Katrina, Tank became a refugee in her own city. She eventually fled to Indianapolis which changed her life dramatically. She had to leave her friends, family and school behind, she had to create a new identity. When performing “Rollercoasters,” Tank prefaces it with an anecdote about a theme park right off the corner from her childhood home in New Orleans that still has a sign reading “will open after storm.” If that imagery doesn’t already give you chills, she continues the anecdote by saying, “there’s some areas of New Orleans where the storm has never passed. So this is for Jazzland, the place where I first saw what love looked like.”

She sings about the butterflies that come with a spiritual love for a place, she compares falling in love to the drop of a rollercoaster, she never understood why rollercoasters and the feeling of throwing up brought upon excitement, but now she gets it. Throughout the song she repeats “Fly, fly, fly, fly,” a common theme. I believe a lot of us forget to let ourselves go and try something new, to fall in love with something or someone, to feel butterflies, to search for excitement. For her, the love of her city and of the people in it made her feel like she was on a rollercoaster. “When did feeling sick become equivalent to thrill, when did nausea become the experience, I’ve always wondered.” This is beautiful. She is equating the anxiety of the body to love, the fear of falling and the even bigger fear of flying.

Tank taught me to let myself go, to let myself fly and to love.

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