Tank and the Bangas
This ebullient quintet from New Orleans formed back in 2011 at an open mike night at Liberation Lounge. Singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball had been plugging away on the poetry slam scene for years where she’d increasingly felt limited by the context of 10-minute sets and decided her work would resonate more in a musical context. From the start Tank and the Bangas ignored any concern for stylistic purity, forging a gritty blend of R&B, hip-hop, funk, and spoken word that earned them a devoted audience in their music-obsessed hometown. The group was admittedly not too concerned about the business part of the music world, so it took nearly six years before the combo got its lucky break, winning the 2017 edition of NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest. The luck was in being selected to compete, as the program had received more than 6,000 entries. But once the group settled in between the desks and bookshelves on the makeshift set, its music took over and suddenly they had an audience to match the music.
That performance has since racked up more than 13 million views, and it led to a recording contract with Verve Forecast Records, which released the group’s second album Green Balloon in 2019, leading to a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist the following year. As with countless musicians silenced by the pandemic, they were eager to get back into the studio and out on the road. The group decamped to California to cut the latest album Red Balloon, which they made at Earth, Wind & Fire’s recording studio. They were joined by an eye-popping roll call of guest musicians including Lalah Hathaway, Jacob Collier, Trombone Shorty, and Big Freedia, but they weren’t cowed by the help. Tank and the Bangas have never sounded more self-assured and relaxed.
As Ben Jardine put it in Under the Radar, “The result is suredly the group’s magnum opus, with songs that deal with anxiety, vulnerability, Black life, community, technology and our modern world, and climate change. Woven throughout are light touches, humor, and Ball’s incredible delivery, her voice taking on different character qualities.”