MusicSummer of Blacker Love

tank and the bangas: the importance of self-knowledge

June 20, 2019
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Six months before Tank and the Bangas sent their tape to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest, forever changing the trajectory of the band’s career, they walked into the Brooklyn bar Friends and Lovers for AFROPUNK’s 2016 Battle of the Bands — and they slayed! Then performing as a sextet, the Bangas banged out a set of their indescribable and joyful music, winning a spot on that year’s AFROPUNK main stage (that year’s other winner: Quasim & the Juggernaut War Party), completely usurping an audience always willing to be open, but damn hard to please.  

There is a lesson of cultural self-knowledge in what Tarriona “Tank” Ball’s group did that night, in what the Bangas have seemingly always done musically — and in the musical meaning of what AFROPUNK is, as well. Though Tank and the Bangas’ are hard-as-hell to pin down, the signposts towards their sound are pretty easy to spot. For instance, nobody who listens to them and then hears that they are from New Orleans is ever surprised, because a gumbo of soul and jazz and funk and hip-hop, performed at an astronomically high level of musicianship, is central to their appeal.

Tank and the Bangas performing AFROPUNK Battle of the Bands 2016, at Friends and Lovers, Brooklyn, June 2016.

Yet so is oddity, and a desire to upend tradition — conditions not native only to New Orleans, but to Black music in general. Fuck safety, what else you got? After all, what’s at the heart of jam sessions and cutting contests and battles and cyphers (and even remixes), than a desire to take what’s already been done and to flip the written script on its head? More so, in order to improvise the move never previously performed in public, one better expertly execute all the moves people are already familiar with.

That June night at Friends and Lovers, there was an instant level of understanding that what Tank and the Bangas bring is not the ferocity of a hardcore punk band, or the raw energy of a rap group — as though these are requirements for acceptance at AFROPUNK. (Just one look at the colorful way that Ball and Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph bring themselves out in front of the band is enough to convince that.) Instead the first thing, the Bangas brought was something expected but blazing. With that established, the group’s musical quirks — a childlike innocence, and progressive jazz chops — could then subvert everything the audience thought they already knew.  

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Before they evolve into something else entirely, Tank and the Bangas have to, first and foremost, know who they are. It is central to their appeal and their success. This is not only a reason to admire them, it’s a lesson if you want to get to where they are now.

Tank and the Bangas are back playing AFROPUNK in Paris on July 13th-14th, and in Brooklyn on August 23rd-24th.

Applications are still open for AFROPUNK Battle of the Bands Brooklyn! 

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