Ranky Tanky: The Lowcountry’s Pride and Joy Thrills Spoleto Festival USA with Gullah Based Soul

The Lowcountry’s very own Ranky Tanky performing at Spoleto Festival USA 2018 on Saturday, June 2, 2018. Photo: Mikah November

By Hakim Abdul-Ali

Talk about making the home folk feel good about themselves. Well, that’s exactly what happened at the Ranky Tanky concert at the Wells Fargo Jazz Program event for Spoleto Festival USA Saturday, June 2, 2018.

This homegrown group of local and Lowcountry based musicians have hit the big time with a 2017 self-titled album that hit the number 1 position on the Billboard jazz charts. To say that they received a much-deserved and warm reception from the Spoleto audience was a tremendous understatement because they were cheered upon taking the stage.

Ranky Tanky is an exhilarating new band comprising six talented and skilled musicians. They promote the Lowcountry’s Gullah heritage with their distinctive sound and traditional local swag.

The band members are Charlton Singleton (trumpet and vocals), Kevin Hamilton (bass), Quentin Baxter (percussion), Clay Ross (guitar and vocals), Calvin Baxter (percussion) and Quiana Parler (vocals). They are all super musicians and together they invoke a sense of recalling how special it is to be representing the Gullah heritage in music and song, a vibe that this Holy City-based quintet wears proudly and extols openly during its concerts and other appearances.

Before I expound on their Saturday night concert, I’ll give you a little insight into the group’s name and its intrinsic meaning. It’s listed that the word “Gullah” comes from a West African language meaning “a people blessed by God”, and Ranky Tanky is said to be loosely interpreted to mean “work it”, or “get funky!”

However one relates to the culture of the Lowcountry, or to this Ranky Tanky’s sudden and meteoric climb up the Billboard’s jazz chart, they and their music are very much reflective of this part of the state of South Carolina. They’ve become international ambassadors of sort for the Gullah’s West Afrikan culture and, of course, for the entire Lowcountry.

Their June 2 concert started later than usual partly due to the earlier inclement weather surrounding the outdoor College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard where the concert was to take place. Emceed by none other than the Lowcountry’s resident political grand pianist himself, Charleston’s Mayor John J. Tecklenburg, who let everyone know how proud he, the city and the rest of the Lowcountry was of these talented musicians as he introduced the band’s entrance to the audience.

Like a divine present from God above, and answering the Mayor’s outspoken silent wishes, the rain stopped, and the show began with an enthusiastic response from the overfilled, thrilled audience. Believe me when I tell you that the audience was joyfully happy to see and hear their newest home town musical celebrities.

Ranky Tanky thrilled the Spoleto throng with about fifteen old and new songs that made the audience feel “some kind of good”, as the old folk back yonder would tout when something hit the spot with good vibrations. The band’s music, a unique Southern blend of gospel-like folk musical adaptations to bluesy, sophisticated jazz nuances to plain old get up and stomp rhythm and blues like tunes, seemed to cover every musical category exciting the audience with unadulterated Lowcountry Gullah vibrations.

All the band’s songs and tunes were meaningful numbers, and they hit the spot with the audience, especially obvious crowd pleasers like “Watch That Star”, “Sink ‘M Low”, “Join the Band” and the rollicking, free wheeling ” Ranky Tanky”. They even unveiled a new song, “Let Me Be”, with Quiana doing her sultry vocal thing on this rather earthy cut.    

This sister has a strong, beautiful and magnificently clear sound that speaks to the fact that she can blow with anyone. When she sings “Turtle Dove” as she did at the concert, she’s in total control of the moment as her voice sweeps the air with a gentle, but stern commanding sweetness.

The band was at times very imaginatively rambunctious when they played and cut loose as master percussionist Quentin and fellow drummer Calvin drove the perpetual beats of their music with soulful abandonment, and along with bassist Kevin Hamilton, they established solid and astounding rhythm flow throughout the night. In reality, in my view, this concert was more of a welcome home reunion affair for the band, who seem to be in love with being selected to perform  in this their initial appearance for Spoleto fans as a collective unit.

With serious minded trumpeter Charlton Singleton always around laying the exterior horn sounds for the night no occasional singing parts, the band introduced a new original of their’s called “Stand By Me” that had everyone clapping in the audience. That didn’t surprise me because I remembered that Ranky Tanky also means to “get funky”, and that’s exactly what the Spoleto audience did with their home based musicians.

The band with Clay Ross forever keeping constant guitar licks throughout the evening gave a stirring version of the old Rolling Stones’ tune, “You Gotta Move”, and I could see that many folk in the audience were singing and swinging along as Clay and the band jammed on merrily further into the late Saturday night. The audience also enjoyed “O Death”, “You Better Mind” and the finale “Green Salad” with as much appreciation as they did at the beginning of the almost two hour gig, which started at around 9:25pm.

Ranky Tanky is truly an exciting, up-and-coming band with a resoundingly brilliant future that’s apparently ahead of them. They are a tight group and have one important thing in their favor, and that’s that they are from the Lowcountry, forever respecting what Gullah really means to them and others.

I can’t help but see a brighter future ahead for these dedicated musicians, who’ve made a name for themselves and their communities. They are Ranky Tanky, and they certainly are “working it.” They surely did that last Saturday night for Spoleto Festival USA, and I must say that it was job well done.


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