An All-Girl Tribe With Fold Ties

by Darien Davies

Photos by Jahnoi Smith

If you’re wondering what the harmonic, Southern sound is around town, it’s The Mona Lisa Tribe. They’re getting bigger and bigger with each gig they play, so catch them while they’re still jammin’ out on the local scene.

The Tribe was the brainchild of Tabitha Meeks, who grew up singing with her sister, middle school friends, and in church in her local town of Deland, Florida.

“I started singing at folk festivals and three-part harmonies in church. That’s where it all started for me,” Tabitha said. “I always thought that an all-girl group was a neat concept, and always wanted to start one, so I did in college.”

Tabitha, who, at the time, was pursuing her music major at Palm Beach Atlantic University, didn’t have to travel far to find what would become the two other original band members. She found them at church and at school, and they form the Mona Lisa Tribe. (“Mona Lisa” because one of the original members reminded Tabitha of the Mona Lisa, and “Tribe” happened randomly as their best creative option. The next best was Trio, so it’s good that didn’t work out.)

They started off in 2016 playing open mic nights, PBAU Grad Night and at Subculture WPB in the alley way. All of their songs consist of vocals, guitar, mandolin, tambourine, and a lot of soul. “I’ve always loved folk music and I naturally gravitated to it when we were forming the band,” Tabitha said. “It plays well to the female voice and the harmonies.”

They consider themselves a girl band with killer three-part harmonies. Tabitha writes all of the original music for the Tribe, and the band members are multitalented and play many rockstar instrumentals.

To her, the best part about the Tribe is that it’s exactly that: a tribe. The two girls in the original, “starting out” Tribe left to travel during the summer, so she did what she does best and asked around for new members. And, voila, just like that, she had a new duo to join her and they’ve rocked out ever since. Even, gasp!, adding some men to the group (when deemed necessary, naturally).

The cool part about their Tribe is that the girls can play pretty much every instrument, so they have the opportunity to switch roles.

“I’m primarily on guitar, but we switch it around, including the vocals, harmony, mandolin and tambourine” Tabitha said. “Once you have a core, in any kind of music, it’s pretty easy to do some basic stuff on different instruments. I play the piano, guitar, saxophone, mandolin, cajon (well), and drum set (mediocre). Oh, and ukulele.”

Now the Tribe consists of Maryann, Sara, Erin and Tabitha (musician, dancer, youth pastor and musician by day, respectively) when they want to be low-key and in more of an intimate setting. Or, they bring in Jon, the drummer (the token band member with a nerdy job), and John, the bassist, who studies music at PBAU, when they want more of a full-band sound. Caroline, one of the original members, also joined back after her travels, and is a part of the band when she’s not studying at PBAU. Basically, they all eat, breathe and drink music.

Their latest gig was at the South Florida Fair, but they also play at Respectable Street, and Subculture, with a goal to play at least three gigs per month. They also played a couple of songs live on the WLRN radio station in February, which they hope will get played again. Like many musicians, if they had the chance to quit their day jobs and play music full time, they would.

“The goal is more than just a musical outlet for us. It’s a fun way to be creative and play the music that we love,” Tabitha said. “Even if we stay just local, that’s fine. We’re all just enjoying it. If it gets bigger in the future, we’ll go with the ow.”

Ground up was where they started, but most certainly not where they are headed.

They are planning to record their EP with Dream Machine Recording and Company, based out of West Palm Beach, this summer as their next big project. But, if they get invited to play at Tiny Desk Concerts in Chicago, they would consider that the cherry on top and could literally quit right after in a cloud of ecstasy. Tiny Desk Concerts is a video series of live concerts hosted by NPR Music at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.

“They have some obscure alternative bands come in, and some really big names,” Tabitha said. “They pick people to go on there and you perform in front of tiny audiences. Then they put it online and it gets a ton of views.”

In the meantime, they’ll be continuing to practice, play and party, as well as getting their musical influence from The Staves, Joseph, The Lumineers, and more. They love performing in small venues so if you’re lucky enough to catch them in intimate house shows, go. Or, Tabitha’s neighbors are vying to get them to practice outside her house so they can all enjoy, so you might get lucky there. (I even tried; casual block party, anyone?)

Rock on, Mona Lisa Tribe. We’re looking forward to joining you on your folk ride.


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