“I’ve been a poet since I was a little girl.”
Like many artists with multiple talents, Tarrionna “Tank” Ball, has a first love. She’s multi-talented and certainly gifted and Tank, as she is affectionately called by all who know her and even those that don’t, is clear about which of those gifts is closest to her heart.
An award-winning slam poet, Tank spent five years as a member of Slam New Orleans (Team SNO)—the first New Orleans slam poetry team to develop after Hurricane Katrina—and received national exposure for her exceptional slam skills.
“The day I met Team SNO my life changed…a group full of people that would challenge my character as well as my artistry,” she remembers. Footage from her SNO days can still be found on YouTube and used as evidence to prove she is, without doubt, meant to be on a stage sharing her talent with the world.
Though her voice rivals most well known singers, singing was a late development compared to her first love. She currently introduces herself as a “singer and a poet” but that was not always the case.
“My sisters always sang and I always wanted to…but I wrote [poetry] more, I always wanted to combine them,” she explains. It took time to hone her singing craft and find the best way to combine her interest in song and passion for writing.
Tank on stage is an experience: an awe-inspiring mix of drama, spoken word and phenomenal vocal power. Her voice pulls you in instantly, traps you and can make you forget about everything else including the fact that she has other talents. As humble as she is it might seem that she is also keenly aware of this ability and so her goal is to make sure that her poetry never takes a back seat to her singing. Just as you begin to get lost, she switches to her original form of story-telling, taking you on a journey, a narrative, abridged snippets of her own auto-biography.
As she performs songs from her recent album Think Tank with her band The Bangas, you can hear the passion in full force. From disappointment of an ex-lover to thoughts of vandalizing a current significant other’s car with her girls, her oratorical prowess is as captivating as her vocal exhibition is enthralling.
The jolting moments in which she shouts in her native New Orleans accent, partly as a reminder and partly to underscore the portrait she’s painting on stage, is a testament to her ability to move fluidly between styles and mediums without warning.
Tank is very New Orleans, in all the best ways. A thorough embodiment of the crescent city that raised her, the abrasive Neauxla (NOLA) accent she uses during performances is more for outsiders than those familiar with her home. A Tank and The Bangas show itself is a reflection of the music-saturated (never overly) city, and when you ask her about it she explains how grateful she is to be surrounded by musicians and artists who never “throw her poetry under the rug” because “it’s a New Orleans thing – to combine everything you do and put it on the stage.”
The past couple of years have been quite the ride for Tank and her band. The Bangas, a 6-piece, including Tank, is comprised of Merrell Burkett on keys, Etienne Stouflet on sax, percussionist, Nita Bailey, Norman Spence on Bass and drummer and musical director, Joshua Johnson came together in 2011. After a number of performances together, including open mic stints at BlackStar Café, the group decided to make it official and take their show on the road.
Of all the things the group has already accomplished, a few stand out as favorite moments for Tank and hearing her song on TV is one of them.
Not too long ago Tank and The Bangas were notified that their song had received placement and would be used on the competitive dance reality show, So You Think You Can Dance. “It was heart stopping,” Tank explained. The placement is indeed a milestone for the band, who saw an immediate response in the form of YouTube views, boosted social media popularity and an expanded fan base.
She describes the excitement of waiting for the episode to air and how the major concern above all else was where they would start the track and where they would cut it. It’s the minor admissions of anxiety over the start and end-time of a song and the restraint she exhibits when she feels like she’s talking too much during our interview that show a completely different side of Tank than what you see on stage.
She giggles when she can’t think of an answer to a question immediately. With a shy bashfulness it’s hard to believe this is the same woman who only a couple days before this interview was dressed like a bishop and dancing across a stage during an electrifying performance, in which she was in the spotlight. It makes you wonder where she gets the energy to keep up such a high-energy show.
“I don’t know how I get up there,” she confessed. What she does know is that she wants to give the audience her all during each performance – whether it’s in the intimate space of a local venue or a huge festival stage. We may never know the source of Tank’s electric stage presence but it doesn’t matter much because watching her on stage is nothing short of a delight. Even after all of this, plus national recognition, multiple poetry books published and a successful competitive slam poetry career that put two national championships on her resume, Tank suggests that it’s “still a surprise.”
She knows what she’s capable of when she gives her all to her craft and is 100% devoted to continued elevation and longevity by maintaining her voice and taking care of herself. She admitted that one of the greatest challenges is keeping herself disciplined regarding her voice. Once so drained by the world around her that she couldn’t finish a set with her band, Tank has learned what put her in that predicament and how to avoid it in the future. She acknowledges that she’s a better singer than she once was and a better artist than she was even a year ago.
Growth is something that the dynamic artist hopes will remain constant in her life. She and drummer/MD, Josh Johnson, agree that she and the band are constantly growing. “I want to keep growing and I want them to grow too.”
Taking on topics such as falling in love, heartbreak, and forgiveness, Think Tank is a journey through the life and experiences of Tank and her fellow band members. “The writing is inspired by love,” she says. And love is what you’re left with whether you’re listening to the album or watching Tank and The Bangas live.
Tank’s thrilling performance style is only enhanced by the musicianship of all five musicians that make up The Bangas. From their humble beginnings back in 2011 at a local open mic night, the group has catapulted, receiving national acclaim on their first world tour. Think Tank recently sold out at the New Orleans Music Exchange (a feat considering it’s only been there four months).
If all that has transpired in the short time of the band’s existence is any indication, there are big things on the horizon for Tank and The Bangas and it doesn’t look like things are slowing down anytime soon. Tank and The Bangas is a band you won’t have to look out for, at this pace they’ll be a band you can’t ignore soon enough – and with a front woman like Tank, why would you want to?
She remains committed to making the music Tank and The Bangas want to make. They don’t let other peoples’ expectations or the rules of mainstream music making or even the glittery potential of fame and fortune determine what type of music she should make or limit their performances.
There once was a time when she would only cover the songs she believed she should cover (soul and R&B) and it wasn’t until her drummer put her on to the likes of Katy Perry and Bruno mars that she began to explore different genres outside of the genres commonly linked to Blacks and Black artists.
So what’s Tank’s ultimate goal?
To inspire other people to go for their dreams and for Black musicians, specifically, to make the type of music they want to make regardless of the boxes people try to put them in. She has refused to compromise her vision up to this point and The Bangas have made the same commitment, a commitment to the music.
With The Bangas behind her, Tank is on a trajectory to become the super star that everyone who encounters her believes she will be and those of us who appreciate great talent have no problems with that. If Tank and The Bangas keep it up, at this point it’s just a matter of time.
There really is no comparing Tank and The Bangas. No singular comparison would be apt or do the essence or totality of this band of musicheads justice. The art they make and present to fans and lovers of music is like nothing heard on the radio right now and there is not a single fan who would tell you they have a problem with that.
Tank and The Bangas is especially for lovers of music who need something more when radio isn’t enough.
Written by B. Alexandra Painia & KAMMs for The Visibility Project
Interviews by B. Alexandra