Ranky Tanky Breathes Life into Gullah Culture

From the  South Carolina Lowcountry, where life is laced with African ways, comes Ranky Tanky, a quintet with music rooted in a culture that has shaped American art, food, language and attitude. Their eponymous album on Resilience Music Alliance celebrates that culture, its people and its mother tongue, Gullah.

“Gullah” comes from West African language and means “a people blessed by God.” “Ranky Tanky” translates loosely as “Work It,” or “Get Funky!” In this spirit the quintet performs timeless music of Gullah culture born in the southeastern Sea Island region of the United States. From playful game songs to ecstatic shouts, from heartbreaking spirituals to delicate lullabies, the musical roots of Charleston, S.C., are fertile ground from which these contemporary artists are grateful to have grown.

Ranky Tanky is an American musical ensemble based in Charleston. It specializes in jazz-influenced arrangements of traditional Gullah music. Apart from lead vocalist, Quiana Parler, four of the group’s members, Quentin Baxter on drums, Kevin Hamilton on bass, Clay Ross on guitar, and Charlton Singleton on trumpet, previously played together in the Charleston jazz quartet The Gradual Lean in the late 1990s.

Gaining years of valuable experience while developing a deeper appreciation for the Gullah tradition they came from, the band reformed with the dynamic vocalist Quiana Parler, who for over 20 years was the most sought-after vocalist in the Lowcountry. She rose to national prominence after her success on the 2003 season of American Idol. Her performances have been featured on national broadcasts like The View, NBC’s TODAY, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show, The Tyra Banks Show, and Saturday Night Live, as well as the Academy of Country Music Awards and the American Music Awards. Together, the group celebrates spirituals and gutbucket blues — music made by descendants of enslaved Africans that introduced such indelible parts of American songbook as “Kum Bah Yah” and “Michael Roww the Boat Ashore.”

Ranky Tanky released its debut album on Oct. 20, 2017. By December of that year, the group had been profiled on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and their album soared to the #1 position on the Billboard, i-Tunes, and Amazon Jazz Charts, besting Van Morrison. The soulful songs of the Gullah culture are brought to life by this band that mixes the Lowcountry traditions with large doses of jazz, gospel, funk, and R&B. Even before their 13-track debut album appeared last year, they were performing in New York’s highly curated globalFEST world music showcase which earned nods from the New Your Times and Paste magazine, and had played from Norway to Monterey, Calif.

Today, emerging from the heart of this still fertile cultural epicenter, Ranky Tanky is the next generation to illuminate Gullah worldwide. Among them we find some of Charleston’s most celebrated and accomplished contemporary artists who share a lifetime of musical collaboration and mutual admiration.

Ranky Tanky is appearing with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra at the Coastal Traditions Concert Feb. 24 and 25 at First Presbyterian Church. For information and tickets, go to hhso.org or call 843-842-2055.