Tank and the Bangas — the funky, jazzy, theatrical, playful New Orleans ensemble featuring slam poet-turned-singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball — returns to Baton Rouge on Friday for a show at Chelsea’s Cafe.
This year has been a good one for Tank and the Bangas. The group followed its Essence Festival debut with three months of performances in Europe and the United Kingdom.
“The shows were always amazing,” Ball said of appearances in London, Amsterdam, Paris and beyond. “People were asking for encores and singing the songs with us. It felt like home.”
Tank and the Bangas’ ocean-length leap from Essence to Europe felt like a natural progression to Ball. She’s been making such logical transitions from one phase to the next since childhood.
“That’s exactly how it moved,” she said. “In steps.”
Ball’s journey as a performer began, as so many singers’ journeys do, in church.
“I was so young,” she said of her singing at New Orleans’ Christian Union Baptist Church, where her grandfather was pastor.
“I began singing there the moment I could sing,” she said. “And growing up being the pastor’s granddaughter was awesome. You get away with a lot of things.”
But Ball judged herself not ready to make singing her primary focus.
“Because I wasn’t the best singer, it made me go to poetry,” she said. “Writing came so much easier to me.”
Ball discovered poetry when she was about 11 through verse written by her sister.
“She doesn’t even write anymore, but she was such a powerful writer,” Ball said. “My sister wrote everything in her notebook. She didn’t know I read her notebook all the time. I memorized all her poems. I still know them by heart.”
Before Ball knew it, she was writing poetry, too. Later, in high school, she and young poet peers spent weekends writing verse together at PJ’s Coffee.
Slam poetry came next. While Ball was a member of Team SNO (Slam New Orleans), the group won National Poetry Slam Championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Following those victories, she knew it was time to move on.
“There was nothing more for me to prove or win,” Ball explained. “And that’s when I knew that it was time to truly do music.”
Meeting Joshua Johnson, the Bangas’ drummer and musical director, was another step. Originally, Johnson got the job of writing sheet music for Ball, so she could provide the scores to whatever pickup musicians she might be working with.
“He came to one rehearsal, and he never left,” Ball said. “And he has a head like mine. Very childish but in a good way when it comes down to music. I love Disney movies, and he loves anime. He also loves big movies like ‘Titanic.’
“He listens to the way the soundtracks of big movies influence the heartstrings. That’s why our show has a lot of theatrics and animation. We want to make people feel a certain way. We always hope to pull those heartstrings, like movies do for us.”