Take off. This is the final lyric of the last verse of a song that has become an integral aspect of my journey to spiritual and emotional healing. Take off. So simple and succinct, yet so loaded with power. Two simple words that offered me catharsis sang by the most effervescent singer of her generation--Tarriona TANK Ball of the New Orleans based band Tank and the Bangas.
I was introduced to Tank and her bandmates after they won NPR's Tiny Desk contest. In an act of cosmic coincidence, they won the contest in the same week that I was gifted with a bike. It was a godsend--the bike I mean. At the time, I was living on a wonderful little Spanish island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea called Minorca. Unlike her more famous sisters, Ibiza and Mallorca, Minorca was quiet and peaceful. The perfect place for repose.
While life in Minorca was lovely, the island was nearly impossible to navigate in the wintertime without some form of transportation. And access to transportation was the one thing that I truly lacked. The bus was not an option after tourist season. A car was optimal, but illogical given the fact that I only intended to be there for a year. But a bike was the perfect compromise. It was free and it had the added benefit of helping burn off all the cheesecake I eaten in the months prior.
So, one day last March as I was scrolling through my Instagram I came across a short video clip on Afro-Punk’s page. As I listened, I was struck by an uncanny quality in the lead singer’s voice that I couldn't quite place. Eventually, I decided that it was so hard to place because her voice sounded like every other singing black woman I had heard throughout my life. I shrugged internally and kept scrolling. But something kept pulling me back. I watched the clip again and then continued to scroll only to stop and repeat the cycle. Despite the fact that I had initially written it off as cliche, somehow I couldn’t let go of that short refrain. So I kept hitting repeat. Until, I reached a point where I needed more of it. So, I decided to check out the entire song on Youtube.
After one play, I was hooked. I couldn't help it. Everything about the members of the band seemed childlike and fun. There was a certain level of gaiety and lightness that I had rarely seen embodied in black performers--save perhaps for Ella Fitzgerald who always seemed to sing with a smile in her voice. Tank's bubbliness in particular was so infectious that it was had to ignore. I imagined that if I could unzip her torso, a thousand pink balloons would fly out and fill the room from end to end. I also gained a new appreciation for her voice. After the 15th playing of "Quick," I realized that Tank's voice wasn't so much generic as it was familiar and comforting. Her influences were clear and much like mine. She and her crew were something I had always searched for in life—kindred spirits.
I wasn’t alone in my adoration. This little song had led them to win the Tiny Desk Contest. As a prize, they were flown to NYC to give a brief concert. And it was during the last song of this performance that a lifetime of my traumas finally began to heal. I just couldn't get enough of it. So, I downloaded the song, put it on my S3, and took it for a ride around the island.
As a rode, I began to think about my life and all my choices thus far. Special consideration was given particularly to the previous two years. I had spent nearly all of my time in Madrid in a state of constant emotional turmoil. Nothing had gone the way I expected it to. Instead of finding excitement and adventure in a new city, I found myself overworked and frustrated. On top of that, I had the added benefit of not being able to communicate with anyone properly.
However, while all that was valid, try as I might, I can’t blame it all on Madrid. I came to Spain emotionally spent and incredulous of the level of stagnation my life had maintained throughout my twenties. And this was after a lifetime of trying to make the “right” decisions. I had tried desperately not to end up like all the other people I knew who all seemed like victims of life. Instead, I was going to take life by the reigns and refuse to allow life to happen to me. Instead, I was solely interested in having a fully curated life that was designed to my liking.
I’ve been so scared to fly, Because I might come down, I think I’m ready now, I'm Getting On, Getting Back
But years of trying to stay in control had driven me away from who I really was. I was naturally free-spirited, yet had spent nearly all of my life trying to become type A. This had created a deep-seated fear in me of the thing I needed the most to be happy—the ability to let go.
But my quiet and unassuming life in Minorca had allowed for a small amount of space in which I could slowly learn the art of release. And rather serendipitously, I came to this physical and metaphorical precipice during “Rollercoasters.” Although it is hard to see from the picture above, that spot is actually the top of a rather large hill. The decline is extremely steep. So steep in fact, that I wondered who in the world would be crazy enough to ride down it. "This can’t possibly be safe," I proposed to myself and my inner adult told me to get off and walk down the hill with the bike at my side.
But then the song came on. I listened as Jelly, the background singer, urged everyone to "fly" as Tank recited that roller coasters were for “people like me who have never been in love.” She continued that “we all just want to know how it feels to just fall.” This hit me like an emotional brick. I soon realized that my desire to protect myself and remain in control had done its job in preventing me from falling apart. But it has also prevented me from falling down and learning to pick myself up without shame. And it has also stopped me from falling in love with anyone--including myself.
It was at that point that I decided to make a change. I didn’t have a rollercoaster, but I did have a bike and a hill so with a deep breath, I decided to take Jelly’s advice. I mounted the bike and flew down the hill just as Tank whispered the last line—Take off.
Love Is For the Brave
That was nearly a year ago. And I've continued to listen to that song nearly every week since then. It has been a wonderful reminder of my time on the island. But it has also served as motivation in those moments when I'm tempted to choose safety over the rollercoaster ride to success.
And little did I know that learning to let go and fly down that hill that day would become a primer to one of the most important decisions I'd ever make. A year later, almost to the date, I quit my job as a language assistant in Spain. It was a big step made even more perilous by the fact that I had no savings or other form of employment to stabilize me. Even my access to housing and ability to stay in the country was on the line. But it didn't matter. The reality was that I couldn't continue to live the life I was living. So, against all the odds and common sense, I climbed to the top of the proverbial hill, put my feet on the petals and pushed forward. Hoping that while learning to fall, I'll learn how to fly.