Quirky musical masterminds Tank and the Bangas are the soul-meets-jazz-meets-hip-hop New Orleans-based fivepiece that is delivering an entirely fresh sound to today’s sonic landscape. They brought the house down at Roots N Blues 2021 and are coming back this year to prime stage for the legendary Chaka Khan. The group’s resident flautist and keyboardist, Albert Allenback, tells us, “It was a blast playing Roots and Blues last year. The people, we felt, were there for the music with open ears and hearts. And they absolutely threw down, party-wise! The whole festival was exceptionally well-programmed so we got a chance to see and feel music we’d never encountered live before.”

Though a long list of musicians have lent their talents to Tank and the Banga’s discography, both on and off stage, the group is primarily formed of five members: Joshua Johnson on drums, Merell Burkett, Jr. on keyboard, Albert Allenback on saxophone and flute, Norman Spence on bass and synth, and last but not least, Tarriona “Tank” Ball on lead vocals. Formed in 2011 after the members met each other at an open mic show, the band quickly introduced themselves to the world with their ear-catching, heart-lifting debut Thinktank in 2013. 

Their 2019 follow-up, Green Balloon, demonstrated that, while blending genres has become popular across the music industry in recent years, Tank and the Bangas take this to a whole new level. The sonic equivalent of revealing colors nobody has ever seen before, their ever-growing discography manages to be zany, polished, brilliant, mature and youthful all at once. 

In Green Balloon, a series of interludes bring to light a more pensive, melancholic side of the sunny lead singer. In “Floating,” hazy vocals and soft piano paint a brief picture of a disassociated Ball as she scrolls aimlessly through her phone, too dazed to keep up with “things that are important.” She feels she’s drifting away. Later on, “In London” presents itself as a glimpse into Ball’s private journal, opening with the calendar date (July 14th), followed by the sound of a pen scribbling on paper. She muses over a series of unrelated topics—her guilt around underproductivity, the swift passage of time, the inability to feel content with life even when she recognizes the many blessings it has brought her. “I feel, mostly…” she sings, “envy at times, special, unspecial, lazy, critical, entitled, lazy, and unloved.” She does not force herself to find a silver lining, nor end on a positive note. She simply lets herself have this moment of despondent mental wandering, concluding with an ambiguous question that hints at her band’s budding global success: “We freaking crossed an entire sea / […] / There has to be a reason for that, right?”

Between the golden highs of the Bangas’ music and the brooding lows of Ball’s heavier tracks lies the band’s sweet spot: a heartfelt celebration of the everyday. Ball has mastered the art of taking a minute, mundane detail—ants, scrambled eggs, Wal-Mart—and using it as a symbolic aid while she muses over bigger questions. In the song “Rollercoasters,” Ball compares the nausea-inducing, body-rattling, white-knuckle experience of a theme park ride to meeting God and ends with a philosophical meditation on why some of us find fear to be thrilling (adrenaline junkies, she concludes, seek thrills because they’ve never known the involuntary free-fall that comes with romantic love). In picking apart the things most of us never give a second thought to, Ball invites listeners to be more present, attentive, and appreciative. The music that accompanies her words only adds to her unique perspective, filling the space around her sentiments with rich, layered textures that further engage the listener. 

Since the release of Green Balloon and the Bangas’ jaw-dropping closing set at Roots N Blues 2021, they’ve released their third full-length album, Red Balloon. Picking up where Green Balloon left off, Red Balloon delivers the same zany style of funk the band has been developing since the start of their career. In this record, they continue to tackle a wide range of subjects and sounds. Light-hearted single “No ID” is as catchy as it is groovy, yet elsewhere in the album, much heavier themes are explored—anxiety (“Anxiety”), God (“Oak Tree”), the afterlife (“Where Do We All Go”). “Stolen Fruit” is Ball’s response to Billie Holiday’s haunting “Strange Fruit.” She tells U Discover Music that the song “is basically about the slave trade. There’s ‘Strange Fruit,’ and I call this one ‘Stolen Fruit,’ because not only were the fruit strange, but they were also stolen. They weren’t from here.” Even as the band skillfully and gracefully explore ideas like these, there is an air of whimsical curiosity to each song that make it feel like you are tapping into Ball’s inner monologue. The album introduces an idea or mood, juts sharply away from it, and then circles back later on. This is what gives the album, and the band in general, a vibrant, fluid sound that manages to remain cohesive. 

Of their sophomore set, Allenback says, “Festival-goers can expect, among other things: Tank entering the stage via jetpack; a literally flaming flute interlude; several trampolines; a local sculptor speed-carving butter into each band members’ likeness; 4 turtles; and pasta used how you’ve never seen pasta used before. But really, you can expect us to pour our hearts out with a set comprised of our favorite music we’ve written over the last several years, music we love from others currently, and of course music from our wonderful new album, Red Balloon. You can expect the time of your life, and I say that not as an empty cliché but as a promise from a friend!” Come see this one-of-a-kind group spread their light at Stephens Lake Park in Columbia, MO on Saturday, October 8th. Purchase your pass here: https://rootsnbluesfestival.frontgatetickets.com