This year has been a good one for Tank and the Bangas, the soulful, jazzy, theatrical New Orleans ensemble featuring slam-poet-turned-singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball.
The group followed its Essence Festival debut in July 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 transitions from one level of creativity to the next since childhood.
“That’s exactly how it moves,” she said. “In steps.”
The next local show for Tank and the Bangas is Friday at One Eyed Jacks.
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 Christian Union Baptist Church, where her grandfather was pastor. “I began singing there the moment I could sing. 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 a major 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 even know I read her notebook all the time. I memorized all her poems. I still know them by heart.”
And before Ball knew it, she was writing poetry, too. When Ball’s grandmother realized her granddaughter suffered from stage fright, she being taking her to public events where Ball could recite her verse. Those experiences gave the young poet confidence in front of a crowd.
Later, during Ball’s high school years, she joined a group of young poets who spent weekends writing verse together at a PJ’s coffee shop. A nationally successful few years of performing 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. But after victories, she knew it was once again time to evolve.
“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.”
Tank and the Bangas have released videos for some new songs, including “Drummers,” but there won’t be a new studio album until December 2016.
“That will give me time to give the fans a really cool album,” Ball said. “I really like all songs and poems that I’ve been writing.”
Everyone who’s part of Tank and the Bangas really wants to be there, Ball added.
“Everybody who gets on that stage, they really feel free,” she said. “Everyone there asked to be there. So I’m excited. It’s really like a rollercoaster. You don’t know where you’re going to land. I’m ready for a ride.”