Tank and the Bangas were in good spirits when they stopped by WFYI to record their Small Studio Session. That positive energy is a big part of the band’s dynamic and sound, which matches an improvisational approach to jazz, soul, and hip-hop with the spoken word/sung vocals of the group’s leader Tariona “Tank” Ball. Tank and the Bangas have plenty of reasons to be feeling good these days - their visit to WFYI came on the heels of a performance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in support of their anticipated sophomore LP Green Balloon. Tank and the Bangas are poised on the threshold of a major breakthrough into the world of popular music, and they attribute much of that success to public radio.
I asked Tank how winning NPR’s 2017 Tiny Desk Contest helped introduce the band’s music to a larger audience. "I think that it changed our lives for sure," Tank explained. "We were always doing this, but everyone said we just needed the right platform so people could see what we do. That's what NPR did for us. We didn't know it would be so huge for us, but it really changed the direction of our lives in the best possible way."
Tank and The Bangas are a product of New Orleans, and they celebrated the city’s heritage during their Small Studio performance. While Tank has deep roots in New Orleans, she also has a meaningful connection to Indianapolis. Tank and her family temporarily relocated to Indianapolis in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Tank graduated from Pike High School, and she remembers her time in Indianapolis as an important formative influence on her life.
"That was just the most worst and best year of my life,” Tank recalled. “My Aunt Gloria came out here with my cousin Alexia. They told us, while we were escaping the storm, 'Come up here. We have housing for you, and people that will treat you real kind.’ We drove all the way up here with our grandparents and family, and that's exactly what we got. I met beautiful people in Indianapolis.” It was a bittersweet time for Tank, but ultimately she says Indianapolis shaped her development as an artist. “Who wants to be separated from their home their senior year?” Tank asked. “But I needed it, because without Indianapolis I wouldn't be the artist I am."
With the fate of refugees and immigrants dominating newspaper headlines, I asked Tank how being displaced from her home shaped her perspective on this issue. "They called us refugees a lot, and we weren’t,” Tank asserts. “We were literally running to safety, but we were obviously Americans. But what's always first, and what people should always remember is that before American, before refugee, before evacuee - we are humans first. If you remember that you can take care of everyone, and love them, and treat them with the same care that you would treat someone who is American. You treat them human first, and that way we all can come together and take care of each other like we're supposed to when we’re displaced."
You can watch the entire Small Studio Session from Tank and the Bangas at Tank and the Bangas Small Studio Session.