From the early notes of jazz that rose up from the Tremé neighborhood to modern day brass blares of a second line parade, the Crescent City is synonymous with music. While folks tend to think of more traditional styles when it comes to the New Orleans sound, Tank and the Bangas want you to know there's much more going on.
"You hear about jazz and sometimes a little bit about bounce. But the spoken word scene is kind of hidden and so there," says Tank, whose real name Tarriona Ball. Much like the scene from which it sprang, her band is a mishmash of jazz, rap and soulful sounds with a whole lot of flavor. Members often compare themselves to "a good gumbo."
Tank and company formed in 2011 after meeting at an Algiers open mic night. First they were the Liberated Soul Collective, then BlackStar Bangas, before ultimately landing on their current name. The group dropped its debut, "Think Tank," a few years later, but was only widely recognized after it won 2017's National Public Radio Tiny Desk contest for dropping a fierce version of "Quick," a groove-infused track performed with theatrical flair.
After beating out 6,000 other contestants and having NPR host Bob Boilen sing their praises, things started busting loose for the neo-soul five-piece.
"It's a full-time gig for all of us now," she says. The band recently played Coachella and also returned from a life-changing jaunt to South Africa for an international jazz festival. "Being able to go back to the homeland was really special. And you better believe we partied all night when we were there."
The genre-busting outfit wields a frenetic, mercurial energy while featuring songs about things as varied as Walmart, Netflix chills and self-empowerment anthems. Funky fusion is all over the place in the best stream-of-consciousness kind of way. Tank confesses that she's a Disney fanatic and also draws on anime for inspiration, spitting verse in cartoonish blurts. It's startling and engaging – the kind of thing that keeps attention glued to the stage.
Tank showed superstar qualities early in life, enough to make her father, a French Quarter carriage driver and DJ with a clever moniker of his own — Cannonball — nickname his little one Tank. He was onto something. She fell in love with words and slam poetry at age 12 after reading her older sister's notebook of poems.
"I memorized them all," she says. That passion led to years of slam poetry competitions and a serious boost of self-esteem. "It's so cool to be vulnerable with words, but strong too. Slamming gave me confidence. … Oh, we bring it onstage."
Tank is thrilled to provide lesser known sounds and promises everything but what you might expect. If you want a taste, check out the new live album "The Big Bang Theory: Live at Gasa Gasa." She explains that New Orleans is ever-changing and a lot of artists are making their own venues to have places to play.
Historically, Frenchman Street was the hot spot to catch legitimate music, but that's changing with the influx of tourists and some artists have left. Tank says that word of mouth and social media are keeping an underground scene alive.
"And I'm not telling anybody about where it is this time," she says, laughing. "It's our version of church that was created because we had to." S
Tank and the Bangas play with Sweet Crude at Venture Richmond's Friday Cheers on Friday, May 11. $10. 6:30-9:30 p.m. venturerichmond.com.