Tank & The Bangas
Coming from New Orleans, Tank and the Bangas are surrounded by plenty of grand musical traditions. And the five-piece group has a rare knack for combining various musical styles—fiery soul, deft hip-hop, deep-groove R&B and subtle jazz—into one dazzling, cohesive whole that evokes the scope of New Orleans music while retaining a distinctive feel all its own.
“It’s music that can’t really be put in a box,” says singer and poet Tarriona “Tank” Ball. She fronts the band with vivid charisma that helped Tank and the Bangas win NPR’s 2017 Tiny Desk Concert Contest by unanimous acclaim, standing out among 6,000 entrants because of what Bob Boilen called “the depth of their lyricism and the versatility of their players.” Those same qualities also attracted the attention of Verve Records, which has signed the band.
Ball’s lyrical depth has been years in the making. She came up in the strong local slam poetry scene before meeting her bandmates: Merell Burkett on keyboards, Joshua Johnson on drums, Norman Spence on bass and synth keys and, eventually, Albert Allenback on alto sax and flute. “Growing up, I always could sing, but I wrote better than I sang, so I focused on writing,” she says. After her team won the National Poetry Slam Championship two years in a row, Ball turned her full attention to Tank and the Bangas.
What started as a loose collaboration at an open-mic night in 2011 has grown into a mesmerizing musical force that’s only picking up speed. After a featured set at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival early in the band’s career, the musicians built a reputation outside their hometown by grinding it out on the road, honing their live show and releasing the 2013 album Think Tank, all the while converting audiences into passionate fans and garnering critical acclaim, from the New Orleans Advocate to The New York Times. “It made us work hard,” Ball says of playing Jazz Fest. “It made us want to feel deserving of it.”
Their hard work is paying off: The Huffington Post says Tank and the Bangas defy description onstage, adding, “It’s music that you have to experience.” The experience is subject to change from one night to the next.
“One show will feel very electronic, or hip-hop, and another show will feel slow and vibe-y and jazzy, and then another show will just be poetry and off-the-cuff riffs,” says Johnson. “As a band, we don’t like to hear ourselves do the same thing for too long, so we might change a small thing here or there, and if we change enough small things, it seems like a big change.”
Tank and the Bangas won the Tiny Desk contest with “Quick,” a riotous single they released in 2017 (and soon accompanied with a cheeky, not entirely safe-for-work video). There’s more new music where that came from as the group works on the follow-up to Think Tank. “It’s going to be awesome,” Ball says. “It’s going to be fun, and a little vulnerable at the same time.”
The band’s ongoing evolution involves more than just music: Ball continues to grow and develop as a performer and writer. Even back in the open-mic days, she was a force of nature. “I don’t know if there’s such a thing as too free, but it was totally uninhibited. She was inspired,” Spence says, laughing at the memory. More recently, Ball has become less of a dervish onstage—“I was running around so much I didn’t have time to sing at all,” she say—while finding new ways of expressing herself as a writer.
“I don’t just think about myself when I write now,” she says. “Just being with my bandmates taught me to think more about other people. And when you have an audience of people ready to listen to you, you’re excited to connect with them, you really are.”
In March 2020, Big Freedia was ready to roll. The Queen of Bounce had a sparkling new EP,Louder, set for release. It came on the heels of acclaimed appearances on Beyonce’s “Formation,” Drake’s “Nice forWhat.” Freedia was beyond excited to unleash Louder, a five-song effort that was her first proper release since 2018, and one that featured Icon a Pop and Kesha.
However, there was one issue: its release date. When the collection dropped on March 13, the world was several days into a lockdown that would last for most of the year, and Freedia actually contracted the virus in its early days. While that demoralized many others, Freedia did what Freedia does best: persevere.
Instead of heading into a year-long tailspin that Louder didn’t get the play it deserved, the beloved artist known as “Queen Diva” immediately got back to creating. Freedia hopped into a studio, but not the one you’d think. In addition to being a music star, Freedia is an experienced cook; she formally launched an online cooking show, where she’d hunker down in her kitchen and would make fun cocktails, food and desserts, that has led to even more burgeoning culinary and lifestyle opportunities, to be announced in the coming year.
Throughout 2021, Freedia unleashed a series of sizzling bounce anthems serving as appetizers to her new six-song EP titled Big Diva Energy. On the project, Freedia emits the recurring positivity she’s known for, however there’s a noticeable strength, passion, and will that’s been emboldened and set ablaze even stronger than before throughout. The EP acts as a statement, imploring people to work hard, play harder and to pause, in order to LOVE and to enjoy life through their own Big Diva Energy.
Now it wouldn’t be a Big Freedia record without the inclusion of special guests. On the spunky “NotToday,” Freedia enlisted the Scissor Sisters’ own Jake Shears alongside Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph of Tank and the Bangas and Galactic fame to add some pizzazz to this instant classic. The song exemplifies the high-energy voltage and vibes that Freedia is going for, with its message about setting boundaries and standing up for yourself.
Also, on the EP is the Omega and Teal Douville – produced banger, ‘BDE’ (which stands for exactly what you’re thinking!) – and oh boy does it bring all the head-spinning ENERGY! It’s Freedia at her finest. With an assist from Jax and viral instrumentalist Marc Rebillet to spice things up sonically, the song’s empowering message is all about swagger, style, confidence and ‘boss’ people who bring infectious confidence to not only a room, but the world.
Freedia isn’t just excited to unleash BDE, she’s looking forward to what’s become an increasingly brighter future overall. A lot of people are going through hard times, and what better cure than an upbeat new Freedia EP? On top of a nationwide tour celebrating the release of the EP, and more TV appearances lined up, New Orleans’ own royalty Freedia has a lot more activity in the not-so-distant future, the true mark of a great well-rounded multi-hyphenate.
George Porter Jr
The Soul Rebels
Eight men pick up shiny brass and drum instruments, lock into an unspoken groove and rotate genres like your favorite playlist shifting from funk, jazz and R&B to hip-hop and beyond. With fire, focus and fluidity, New Orleans-bred staple THE SOUL REBELS expand musical boundaries with an unwavering commitment to originality and innovation through genre-bending songs and collaborations.
Brass sensation The Soul Rebels are riding high in 2021 after receiving national attention following the release of their new album, Poetry In Motion. The eight-member collective appeared on Def Jam artist Dave East and Nas’ “Godfather 4” single, Big Freedia and Icona Pop’s “Pipe That”, and reached fans with original singles “Greatness” featured as ESPN’s official College Hoops theme anthem, and “Good Time” featured on Netflix’s #BlackAF and Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!
The Soul Rebels have impressed viewers with two recent appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk series with Wu Tang Clan front man GZA, headlined the global TED Conference, and appeared on the official soundtrack for Universal Pictures’ hit comedy Girls Trip.
On the heels of their new supergroup with The Wu Tang Clan, The Soul Rebels continue to expand their international reach touring four continents including Europe, Australia, China, South Korea and Japan. Their explosive stage presence has led to live collaborations with the likes of Katy Perry, Nas, G-Eazy, DMX, Robin Thicke, Macy Gray, Portugal. The Man, Robert Glasper, Big Freedia, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Matisyahu.
The Soul Rebels started with an idea – to expand upon the pop music they loved on the radio and the New Orleans brass tradition they grew up on. They took that tradition and blended funk and soul with elements of hip hop, jazz and rock all within a brass band context. The band has built a career around an eclectic live show that harnesses the power of horns and drums in a deep pocket funk party-like atmosphere. The Soul Rebels continue to chart new territory as they feature in major films, tour globally, and combine topnotch musicianship with songs that celebrate dancing, life, funk and soul.