SALT LAKE CITY — Tarriona Ball is a one-of-a-kind performer.
She’s got big hair — and an even bigger voice — and her face lights up as soon as the first beat of a song drops.
There’s also an element of surprise to her performances, as if the way she’s singing a song in a particular moment is unlike any other time she’s sung it.
And for the New Orleans-based singer, that’s probably the case.
Ball, who goes by the nickname “Tank,” fronts Tank and the Bangas, a band that delivers a unique blend of funk, soul, spoken word and hip-hop to its audience. The group won NPR’s 2017 Tiny Desk Contest, and will be making an appearance at the Urban Lounge in Salt Lake City on Sept. 26. The Deseret News spoke with Tiny Desk Concert Series creator Bob Boilen about the series and the contest’s latest winners in a recent interview.
The inspiration for the Tiny Desk Concert series emerged after Boilen and NPR music reviewer Stephen Thompson struggled to hear folk singer Laura Gibson’s whispery voice over a rowdy crowd at a bar in Austin, Texas, during the South by Southwest Music Festival.
“When she came offstage, Stephen and I said, ‘We couldn’t hear you,’” Boilen recalled. “And Stephen jokingly said, ‘You oughta just come play (at) our office.’”
A few weeks later, Gibson showed up at Boilen’s desk, and out of this visit came the series' first concert.
“As a former video producer and audio engineer, my eyes just lit up,” Boilen said. “I set up a couple of cameras and a microphone, edited (the video) and put it up, and the reaction was kind of incredible. So we kept doing it.”
Since the series’ inception in 2008, more than 600 intimate performances have been recorded live from Boilen’s desk — a colorful space cluttered with books, albums and music memorabilia. The series has featured artists from a variety of genres including The Avett Brothers, The Shins, Adele, Chance the Rapper, Wilco, Ben Folds and violinist Joshua Bell.
And how does Boilen and his NPR music staff determine what musicians to bring in? The rule is fairly simple.
”You have to be passionate about the artist in order to invite them to the desk,” he said. “You can’t just kind of like ‘em. You gotta love’ em and love ‘em a lot.”
Three years ago, the series expanded to include a Tiny Desk Contest, allowing musicians throughout the country to submit a video for a chance to play a mini-concert at Boilen’s desk.
Tank and the Bangas was selected from more than 6,000 entries, according to Boilen.
”We get an intense amount (of submissions),” he said. “The video has to be an original song, performed behind the desk of their choosing, so people get creative. We judge solely on the merits of the music and not on the quality of the recording.”
Sorting through the submissions and selecting a winner takes about a month, Boilen said. After videos are watched and star-rated, a panel of judges sifts through the best ones and tries to reach a consensus.
But when it came to Tank and the Bangas, the vote was unanimous.
“There’s no one like them, and I like that,” Boilen said. “(Their video) had a lot of heart. It certainly was unique. I couldn’t pin down the musical style. There was poetry, and you didn’t know where it was going. Too many songs that we get reveal themselves in the first 20 seconds, and you know exactly what’s going to happen and it doesn’t feel fun. There was no idea what this song was going to take on, and what the sound was going to be like. It was real thrilling.”
Tank and the Bangas is bringing its New Orleans flair to Salt Lake City, and while the band emphasizes unpredictability in its music, there is one thing of which Boilen is certain — show up early because there’s going to be a crowd.
“They've already since the contest have had an extraordinary year,” he said. “We’re looking forward to (next year’s contest) and discovering somebody else who will blow us away in the way (Tank and the Bangas) has.”
Urban Lounge is a 21 and older venue.
If you go
What: Tank and the Bangas
When: Tuesday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Urban Lounge, 241 S. 500 East
How much: $15