I’ll set the scene: It’s March 27th 2020; Covid-19 has pushed the world into lockdown; Tarriona “Tank” Ball records a Tiny Desk Concert in her living room; George Floyd has not yet been murdered. Fast forward to now: It’s June 27th 2020; the UK is still in lockdown; I stumble across Tank’s Tiny Desk Concert during a YouTube procrastination hour; George Floyd’s murder has prompted a worldwide civil rights movement. In this intimate performance, Tank (without her Bangas due to social distancing) invites us into her home and treats us to a lesson in staying in, self-acceptance and the beauty of being an unapologetic Black womxn, as she practices what her t-shirt preaches: “OWN YOUR VOICE”.
I’ve watched many of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts (many of them many times), but none have ever had the impact this one had on me. If you’re familiar with the Tiny Desk alumni, you’ll know this is quite a bold statement indeed.
Like many other Black people right now, I’m emotionally exhausted. The current Black Lives Matter movement is a vital and hopeful move towards anti-racist reforms but is also a constant reminder of the continued brutalisation of Black bodies and the rifeness of anti-Black violence. I’ve therefore found solace and hope in being able to see Black joy, Black love, Black resilience – and that’s exactly what Tank gives us in this video.
At one point she falls back into her sofa, revelling in the joyful silliness of her performance, before seamlessly flowing into a moving poem about her college experience, and the impact of precarious and unfulfilling employment. Lines like, “I wanna know if that same rope that did the lynchings / are still tied to the tree that the paper from my notebook came from”, hit with equal parts beauty and pain. Yet, before you have enough time to re-compose yourself, she’s cackling again and slipping right back into silliness and uplifting affirmations. I’m taken aback by this perfect balance between poignancy and playfulness but not surprised, as it’s a firm staple of Tank and the Bangas’ music, which consistently oozes joy through screens and speakers, and into my own body.
A perfect demonstration of this oozing joy is Tank’s song about social distancing. After the initial Covid-19 lockdown announcements, I didn’t leave the house for about a week – not due to underlying health conditions, but for fear of other people’s inability to remain two metres away from me. Tank’s smile shines through her words as she perfectly articulates this frustration with a lilting “stay six feet back, bitch”, and begs everyone listening “don’t go out to the cookout”. As lockdown eases, this is as relevant as ever.
My favourite thing about this performance is Tank’s approach to musicmaking. She makes her beats with a version of Korgs music software called iKaossilator – it looked like a multicoloured 2D interpretation of a theremin. She adds percussion to this other-worldly magic with the odd whack of a pen on her table/cocoa-butter-tub/suitcase. At points, the software on her iPad doesn’t seem to behave as she wants it to, and she admits that she only learned how to use it the night before. This demonstrates an admirable lack of pretention or expectation, as she succumbs instead to the unapologetic excitement of not being perfect at something, but still kicking ass at it.
So thank you, Tank, for igniting a fire in my belly enough to slap my desk with such vigour as to supplement your pen-meets-cocoa-butter-tub drum beats with my own, and for reminding me that it’s okay to be alone, and allow my “wings to take off when they want to”. I, too, will own my voice.
Words: Saoirse Amira Anis
Image: Tarriona “Tank” Ball