When Tank and the Bangas and The Suffers come together, expect a night of soulful healing, and on December 4th, that’s exactly what happened. The two queens of the gulf coast participated in Houston’s Red Bull SoundClash: Queens of the Gulf Coast Soul. Hosted by music legends Big Freedia and Paul Wall, the two bands celebrated the artistic and cultural impact of the Texas and Louisiana scene. Band vocal leaders Tarriona “Tank” Ball and Kam Franklin sat down to talk about their start and that notable southern sound.
Formed in 2011, Tank and the Bangas is a sonic band composed of funk, soul, hip-hop, and R&B. Based out of New Orleans, the group was founded by lead vocalist Tank, who garnered recognition as a slam poet. “Open mic night in New Orleans, baby. Liberty Lounge. If you missed church, that was your church. We performed every Sunday and decided that we wanted to get on the road. We called ourselves the Liberating Soul Collective. Eventually, that fell off and we were just left with the band. They were called the Black Star Bangas,” Tank shares on how the band came to be. Without much thought, she teamed up with the band and would move forward as Tank and the Bangas.
The Suffers would have a different start. Inspired by an old Jamaican film, The Sufferers would be shortened to The Suffers. “The name is a reference to an old, Jamaican film called 'Rockers.' In the movie, there are a lot of independent artists trying to make things happen and falling short. There was one artist really trying to push his album and he called himself a sufferer. At the time we were just a bunch of reggae and islander kids trying to make it so it just stuck,” Kam explains, admitting that in this industry, sometimes you must suffer. Harsh but true.
There’s something special about that deep, southern sound. It’s soulful, raw, painful, joyous, and emotional all at once. Beaten down by tropical storms coupled with bad politics that have wiped out Black and brown communities, Louisiana and Texas have bonded over their immeasurable losses. A byproduct of those losses are some of those soulful sounds that have aided in the healing of those communities. New Orleans bounce pioneer, Big Freedia attested to the uniqueness of these two places. “We bring a lot to the culture of music. There are a lot of similarities. A lot of people moved to Houston after Katrina, so we’re close." From the cuisine to the dialect, the south brings invaluable elements to music.
Though New Orleans and Houston are close-knit, the diversity of their cities speak differently to the soul. Candy-painted whips, chopped not slopped cuts, and gold grills tell a story of Houston while alluring accents, high-energy bounce music, and spirituality rooted in the bayou are all an ode to New Orleans. “It depends on what side you’re from. This isn’t your mother or your grandmother’s Houston or New Orleans. We’re living in a climate changing world that has impacted both of our cities for years. We’ve gone through environmental traumas that no-one should have to go through,” Kam shares before continuing, “we’ve been bonded together by those traumas but what separates us, is what we grew up with.” Immersed in gospel, mariachi, and music of Mexico, Kam’s only access to Black music stemmed from the church. Now, as the lead vocalist for The Suffers, her music reflects those inspirations. You may even catch her twirling on stage to the rhythmic, yet diverse sounds she grew up on.
Inspired by the sounds of gospel, R&B, funk, and hip-hop, Tank owes all her inspiration to the sounds of Black artists that she grew up on. “Growing up, I never heard any type of Mexican music like Kam. So I’m always watching her sing and dance across the stage,” Tank gives a nod to The Suffers’ vocalist. Shifting from classic soul and funk to hip-hop, Tank’s vocal agility is incomparable. The Grammy-nominated band has a knack for delivering music that applies to anyone.
The impact the south has left on the culture of music has spanned decades. Much of the music we hear today has found its inspiration in the elements of southern music. These two women and the bands behind them, continue to be a reflection of that influence.