Tank and the Bangas. Photo provided via Spoleto Festival USA.

The Grammy-nominated band Tank and the Bangas promises an evening packed with soulful music, spoken word and musical unity as Spoleto Festival USA’s 2023 finale headliners.

“It’s unifying people through the sound,” said Norman Spence, a founding band member.

The five-member band will close out Spoleto on June 11 at 5 p.m.as the headliners for the Spoleto Wells Fargo Festival Finale. Spence, who also plays synth keys in the band, said they’ve been looking forward to giving festival-goers not just a show but a spiritual ride through the band’s discography. 

The band—Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, Joshua Johnson, Albert Allenback and Spence—met at a series of open mic nights in 2011 at the BlackStar Books & Caffe in New Orleans. They became Tank and the Bangas soon after.

Combining soulful R&B sounds with passionate and affirming spoken words from its lead singer, Tank, the band has always tried to give listeners something to take away, whether it’s a smile, a good time or a new mindset. Spence said the openness in the band’s music and performance makes their audience feel appreciated during shows. 

The band has been nominated for two Grammys, the first in 2020 for Best New Artist and the second in 2023 for “Red Balloon” as Best Progressive R&B Album. From being listed as one of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s favorite bands to winning the 2017 NPR Tiny Desk Contest, the band has accomplished a lot since its creation. But Spence said the main accomplishment is seeing how their music lifts listeners.

“The same good energy we try to put out, we want people to feel it, take it home with them and spread it around,” he said.

Earlier in the band’s career, Spence said show crowds consisted of only a handful of people; sometimes, those in attendance would only be family or family friends. But the band always gave the same spirit and performance they would give a packed stadium.

“No matter how many people are in a crowd, we still get the same energy,” Spence said.

Deidre Carter, a 29-year-old from New York, first heard Tank and the Bangas in 2019 at Afropunk in Brooklyn. Carter said she’s not much of a dancer, except when she’s listening to the band. 

“It was just like bright colors, it felt like Mardi Gras, and I thought that was really cool,” Carter said. “The music sounds like poetry to me.”

Seeing them live six years ago sparked her love for their music. The first songs Carter was drawn to were “Rollercoasters” and then “Boxes and Squares,” two songs with messages of self awareness, risk taking and love. Carter plans to see them again in Baltimore on June 8, performing at Jazzy Summer Nights.

Many of the band’s original songs comment on societal problems, self-love and self-growth. Spence said when making their third and latest album, Red Balloon, they contemplated many of the difficulties they encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as loneliness, social media desensitization and endlessly scrolling through Twitter. 

Much of their music also examines what it is like navigating the world as a Black person. In the song “Stolen Fruit” they describe the struggle of growing up while Black and being seen in terms of race rather than individuality. 

“‘Red Balloon’ was pretty intentional unintentionally,” Spence said. “We started making that during COVID, and there was a lot happening politically and socially. So it was an opportunity to address some of that.”

Spence said band members look forward to giving Spoleto a show filled with music that feeds the soul and spreads a little joy. 

“This is gonna be a great time to have fun and tell all your friends to come out,” said Spence. “We are in it to bring the joy, and everybody needs some.”

IF YOU PLAN TO GO: 5 p.m., June 11. Tickets are $47 and are general admission and first-come, first-served.  Location:  Firefly Distillery, North Charleston.

Timia Cobb is an arts journalism graduate student at Syracuse University.

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