Slam poetry, jazz, hip hop, R&B, funk, rock and country: This band hits all those notes

By Matt Wickstrom,

Tank and The Bangas’ new album, Green Balloon comes out May 3. The New Orleans collective rides their NPR Tiny Desk momentum into Lexington’s Manchester Music Hall Thursday. Alex Marks

LEXINGTON, Ky. — It’s not every day a band comes along equipped with soulful slam poetry and a backing collective mixing together an intoxicating blend of jazz, hip hop, R&B, funk, rock and country.

However, such is the case for New Orleans-based Tank and The Bangas, who’ve captivated crowds from NPR’s Tiny Desk to festival and club stages around the world, and will try to do so again when they make their Lexington debut Thursday at Manchester Music Hall.

The foundation for Tank and The Bangas materialized in 2011 when lead singer Tarriona Ball, who was already creating a buzz around New Orleans with her voracious slam poetry, connected with a couple of musicians at an open mic. The encounter led to the formation of the Blackstar Bangas, a nod to Blackstar Coffee & Books, the location of the open mic that brought them all together.

Drummer Joshua Johnson said the band shuffled around other names (and members) for a short time, going by Liberated Soul Collective and Tank and The Blackstar Bangas before deciding on Tank and The Bangas. The band’s current lineup is Ball and Johnson along with Norman Spence (bass), Merell Burkett (keyboards) and Albert Allenback (alto saxophone, flute).

Approaching a decade playing together, the band is a testament to the harmony that can exist when artists are fully in sync with one another and as a collective can push the boundaries of the individuals among them in ways they never could accomplish on their own.

This harmony was on full display in 2017 when the band was elevated to superstar status after unanimously winning NPR’s Tiny Desk contest with a performance of their song “Quick,” a tune heavy in hip hop influence while also welding hints of rock, funk, soul and jazz.

The song also shows off the poetic background of Ball, who’s a magician at contorting and altering the pace of her voice to match the rhythm of the rest of the band, belting out soulful melodies one moment and childish sass the next.

While the group can turn up the tempo in a heartbeat, their most shining moments may be during their softer, more poignant moments where Ball’s poetic side stands out. Such is the case on “Oh Heart” from the band’s 2013 effort “Think Tank,” in which Ball proclaims “Maybe I’m a monkey in the a tree running with the hope and possibility, throwing pennies down the wishing well, hoping and wishing, male monkey just to look at me, look how quickly i can climb a purple tree, I’m gymnast, chemist, centric mathematician; you should look at me, look at me!”

Tank and The Bangas biggest strength is it’s diversity, whether it’s Ball’s poetry, Johnson’s experience in church and school bands or Allenback’s jazz influence. On the outside looking in the Bangas genre-hopping may seem complex or hard to keep up with, but according to Johnson, they’re all a part of one big web.

“To me they’re all connected,” said Johnson. “The more you delve into music the more you notice the nuances that bring all of the genres together. For example. I might find a touch of R&B in country or a bit of R&B in rap… the fun part is figuring out how to incorporate as many as possible without muddying it up.”

The group looks to further expand on their diversity with “Green Balloon,” their highly anticipated follow up to “Think Tank,” out May 3.


Tank and the Bangas with Maggie Koerner and DJ RQ Away

When: 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 18

Where: Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester St.

Tickets: $15-20, ages 18+


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