I first learned about spoken word and musical artist Tarriona “Tank” Ball, front-woman for the group Tank and The Bangas, by watching her “What’s Underneath?” interview with the mother and daughter team that make up Style Like U. I would later learn that we shared another connection. But we’ll get to that later. Before we jump into her partnership for Hyatt Regency’s Come Together campaign, or talk about her start in spoken word or her desire to embrace her Blackness, I’ll allow her to introduce herself.
“I would say if you’re looking, if you want to know who is “Tank and the Bangas,” I would say look up two things. The first one would be when I actually started the Slam New Orleans, which was after the storm [Katrina], after I graduated [high school]. I came back to New Orleans to be a part of a nationally award winning slam team.
And then I would tell them to look up our Tiny Desk concert. That’s such an amazing introduction to who we are to the world. I’m a poet that loves people, that tries to understand people. Somebody who literally made a career out of being in her feelings.
The realization of her gift came from a gift her cousin gave her.
“I started writing at 12. My cousin gave me a poem. And I memorized it for my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. I messed up the poem up so bad. I kept looking at it. I was messing it up so much. But my grandmother must have saw something really special in me. Because after that, she brought me to every church my grandfather would preach at. And I would speak before he spoke. Folks were laughing at me because I had a really big voice, really early. But I was like, ‘Nah. I’m doing something right. My grandmother brought me here. And y’all should just watch me do this because I’m ‘bout to do it right.’”
So back to Style Like U’s “What’s Underneath?” video.
In it, she speaks about being displaced after Hurricane Katrina and being relocated to my hometown, Indianapolis, Indiana. Months later, I would learn, from one of my Facebook friends, that Tank ended up at Pike High School, my high school.
When I got on the phone with her and asked her what years she was there, she told me that she graduated in 2006, the same year I did. But my senior class was made up of over 600 people and I didn’t come across her path before we graduated.
While the names Louisiana and Indiana sound similar to the ear, there are significant differences between New Orleans and Indianapolis. So I asked her what it was like adjusting and whether or not she was embraced by my classmates.
“It was a culture shock for me, honestly. Just being from the south, I never even saw interracial dating going on. Definitely wasn’t going on at my school, at all. Just being in a place where they taught even so many different languages at the school, Vietnamese and everything. I was like ‘Wow.’ That’s really different. And the fact that they wore regular clothes [instead of uniforms] and that was a regular thing for them, that was really foreign to me as well. I wasn’t truly embraced that much by the seniors because they had already had their friends. They’d been there for years with each other. So I didn’t make too many senior friends. I actually found a lot of commonalities with the freshmen because they were new as well and wanted to make friends and not really worried about being cool but just kind of open to get by and make friends as well.”
Now, over 10 years later, Tank is speaking about the importance of coming together on a larger scale. She’s partnered with Hyatt Regency to celebrate their 50th anniversary and decades of embracing difference.
“50 Years ago, the first Hyatt Regency property, Hyatt Regency Atlanta hosted the 11th annual session of the Southern Leadership Conference, becoming one of the only hotels to welcome civil rights leaders during that time. To celebrate the historic milestone, Hyatt Regency will be debuting a powerful short film, Come Together, rooted in the power of understanding and inspired by the events from 50 years ago.” They tapped Tank to be a part of the project.
I asked Tank why it was important for her to partner with Hyatt Regency for this campaign.
“We’re just at an extremely vital time, I believe, in history. It almost feels as if it’s repeating itself. And not even in the positive way. When I sat down with Xernona Clayton and she spoke of the past with Martin Luther King and how the Hotel of Hope came about. Being treated so badly inside of another establishment, walking out and Dr. King literally looking across the street at the Hyatt Regency when it was in construction and he says, ‘Hopefully, that will be our hotel of hope.’ Meaning, we hope that they’ll be kind. We hope that they’ll be open-minded. And it’s almost as if he spoke over the building itself to be that it was. And since day one, they’ve been the type of establishment to open themselves to all types of people no matter what. And they still try to hold on to that til today. And that was important to me. It’s special at a time when I feel like the leader of our country is trying to pull us backwards. Here, we have an establishment that honors the past and understands the ugly of it but sees the beauty of people that thought collectively to move forward. Oo! That Xernona Clayton was something else. She was sharp as a tack and remembers everything like it was yesterday. It was just something I just had to do. It was a special collaboration, I believe.”
I don’t want to keep referencing the Style Like U video but there were so many gems in it. During the interview, Tank explained the importance of emphasizing and exaggerating her Blackness. I asked her why highlighting that element of herself is so important.
“It’s important to me because we literally had a point in history where Black women had to hide their hair, you know. Because other women didn’t want to see that or they had to wear shabby clothing and they still tried their best to make it look nice. It doesn’t matter how far removed we are from our homeland, it is within you. It is literally your blood. It’s your rhythm, it’s in the way you talk to other girls. It’s like what I heard another girl say, which is so true. It’s a conversation that you have with your eyes when you’re complimenting sis walking past you. It is just, Oh my God! The spirit has traveled a lot of places to get where it is but it’s still going.
It’s important to me to be loud in that because somebody literally tried to force you to be quiet. People like to say White privilege a lot. And that’s true, they do have a privilege. But do not negate your own. There were people like Xernona, people like Malcolm and people like Martin and people like Nina [Simone] that really fought. You want to put a hashtag up and share a video but there is so much more beyond that that people really did that truly dedicated their life to equality. That’s serious. Putting their own life in danger every day just so you could be treated like a person. Somebody really lived their life for you. That’s why this campaign is so much more than a video. There were people who were fighting and living for this everyday and it’s not over. It’s not over. That’s 50 years ago, that’s the age of somebody’s momma. That’s still happening. That’s not dead. And when that’s not dead that means that certain things like this need to be alive.
When we do actually come together, things actually do get accomplished. The work is not done. The work is not done.”