February 18, 2019


Ranky Tanky: Keeping the Faith: The Charleston band taps its roots to bring Gullah music to the top of the charts (ALLISON GLOCK, February/March 2019, Garden & Gun)

Charleston-based Ranky Tanky formed in May 2016, when five musician friends with shared personal and professional history dating back decades--trumpeter Charlton Singleton, drummer Quentin Baxter, guitarist Clay Ross, bassist Kevin Hamilton, and vocalist Parler--got together at Ross's urging to record their interpretation of Gullah music, songs and spirituals passed on from those descended from enslaved people, primarily along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts, who developed their own language and culture thanks to their relative seclusion.

"When Clay approached us about Ranky Tanky, honestly the first thing I said was 'Why would we go out and do Gullah?'" Singleton recalls, sitting beside Parler as he tears open a biscuit and slathers it with jam. "'I can go to church right now and hear folks singing those songs.'"

Singleton, who is forty-eight, could not have predicted how their arrangements of age-old Gullah mainstays would penetrate a cluttered media landscape and resonate with listeners hungry for authenticity and mainlined soul. How the music of his youth and family would quench a thirst he never suspected existed beyond his backyard. "What I learned is that everybody can relate to it somehow," he says. "In all of our travels, whether it's us playing in Seattle or Nebraska or Northern Canada, everybody's got some sort of turmoil that they've been through. And this music, coming from this community and those enslaved Africans, everybody can feel a piece of Ranky Tanky." (The very name is an evocation of movement, meaning "work it" or "get funky.")

Parler remembers thinking when she signed on that the band would book a few local gigs, perhaps some summer festivals. "The initial talk was maybe ten tour dates," seconds Singleton, who at the time had just agreed to be the first artist in residence at Charleston's Gaillard Center for the performing arts. But ten shows turned into twenty, then fifty. "And then it was five countries in Europe. I was like, 'What?'"

"We went to the Czech Republic, and they were screaming 'Ron-ky Ton-ky!'" says Parler, bemused still.

Posted by at February 18, 2019 4:59 PM