For all of its expected flair and panache, New Orleans is nothing if not a flexible city that holds within a certain number of surprises. Listen a little closer the next time you’re in town, and you might just hear something you didn’t expect from the clubs and restaurants of New Orleans; the electrifying sounds of “Tank and the Bangas”.
Tank and the Bangas – One Group, Many Origins
When you consider the starting point in the career of a solo artist, it is easy to pinpoint the time and place when that individual made the move toward music as a career rather than a side gig. With a group like Tank and the Bangas, the opposite is often true. Each member of the group made the move toward music along a different path, with different inspirations and experiences along the way.
Tarriona, “Tank Bell”, is the lead vocalist of the group, but her life isn’t solely defined by music. Before she was leading Tank and the Bangas toward recognition as the 2014 Offbeat Emerging Artist award or success onstage at the 2015 New Orleans Jazz Fest, she was an accomplished spoken-word poet. Her experience as a poet contributes to the complexity of her lyrics, and serves in part as an influence for the group’s genre. Speaking on the influences on the group’s music, she pointed towards the various experiences: “Just our various backgrounds. We love a lot of different music, and we saw no need to not do all of them (in our music).”
Each of the group’s members bring their own unique perspective to bear in the sound and soul of Tank and the Bangas. For Merell Burkett, inspiration came from uncle Kelvin Harrison, with Burkett re-counting: “My uncle has inspired me since I can remember. He used to sit me behind the piano at his home and teach me different melodies with his saxophone. He’s the reason I began to look at music as a career.”
Norman Spence is the group’s bassist, and credits various sources as the spur for his musical career and the direction of the group. He comes from a musical family, with brothers and cousins that play or sing, as well as a father who plays the piano. Spence, however, also points to fellow musicians, famous and lesser-known, who inspire his music and that of the group: “Dilla, Prince, Curtis Mayfield, D’angelo, Dwele, and others like them understood how to tap into and reproduce that funky, soul feel.”
The Formation of the Group
With such a variety of sources of stimulation and encouragement and such numerous pathways to music, there had to be a time when the members of Tank and the Bangas finally came together to create the unique and electrifying sounds that now defines their music. That story came courtesy of Spence, who recalls the group’s formation back in 2011 at an open mic night at Jerk Chicken Sam’iches: “Liberation Lounge was the name of the open mic where Tank, Josh and I met. The Black Star Bangas (Amari Johnson the guitarist and Nation Savior the bassist) were the house band for the open mic. I was playing keys for another artist that was featuring at the open mic one night but I enjoyed the vibe so I kept coming back to play. There were all kinds of other artists but only a few got close and formed The Liberated Soul Collective. We toured a little, had some fun, some long rehearsals and eventually some of the artist started falling back. We were then Tank and the Black Star Bangas, until the guitarist left.. So we changed it to ‘Tank and The Bangas.’”
A Collective Inspiration
With so many of the band members being associated with a city like New Orleans, it’s impossible not to inculcate such a vibrant and eclectic place as a shared source of creativity. Although, drummer Joshua Johnson sees both sides of the argument, stating that, “I don’t believe it does, seeing that so many members in the band are not even from New Orleans, at the same time, I guess you could say the ‘mixture’ is what makes it so New Orleans”. Others are quicker to cite NOLA, an acronym for New Orleans, Louisiana, as playing at least some role in the group’s identity.
Burkett, who calls New Orleans home, says that, “New Orleans is a very inspiring city. Music is everywhere in this city. So NOLA is definitely a factor in our music, being that NOLA is in us.” Responding to the same inquiry on the role of New Orleans in the group’s sound, Spence had a more straight-forward answer: “Of course, although there are other influences.”
Words of Advice for the Next Generation
Any band that has gone through the trials and tribulations of building a fanbase and earning the respect of the industry has valuable wisdom to impart to future generations of musicians. As winners of the 2014 Offbeat Emerging Artist award, which the group called, “An Honor,” each member of Tank and the Bangas has a different piece of counsel to inspire other groups as they struggle for recognition.
Johnson would tell any beginner to, “Stay humble, stay consistent, and chase what you are passionate for, because you won’t allow yourself to fail in that.” He continues, “Don’t be discouraged when ‘it’ doesn’t look how you think it should at first. Just keep pushing and refining.”
Spence also offered a few words of wisdom for those anxious about making it big in music, “Be anxious for nothing. Just make good, sincere music, and stay consistent. Enjoy the ride.”
Tours and touring
When Tank and the Bangas aren’t performing in clubs or at events across New Orleans, the group is on the road bringing their own brand of unique, electrifying, and eclectic music to others around the USA and across the world. Tank and the Bangas have performed in places such as the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and the Brooklyn Bowl in New York. For all the time on the road, Tank thinks the group is at its best when it’s traveling, saying, “Actually, that’s the time for us to connect. We get along best there because we know there is no other place we’d rather be.”
Tank and the Bangas are out on the road across the US throughout the first half of 2016, with more tour dates to be announced. An album is currently in the works, one which Burkett hopes will be ready for release come fall 2016.