Telluride Jazz Fest: Ranky Tanky

Telluride Jazz Fest: Ranky Tanky

Ranky Tanky appears at the 2017 Telluride Jazz Festival on Friday, August 4, 3:20 p.m., Main Stage; Friday, August 4, 10 p.m., Liberty Bar & Lounge; Saturday, August 5, 11:30 a.m., Society Stage, Elks Park.

Tickets/passes to Telluride Jazz here.

Go here for the full Telluride Jazz line-up.

Scroll down to listen to a podcast featuring Charles Singleton of Ranky Tanky.

Ranky Tanky

Ranky Tanky. It’s the name of the band and it means, more or less, “work it” or “get funky” in Gullah.

Gullah you say?

I say…

That Rolling Stones song, “You Gotta Move”?


That swing in the Count Basie Band, propelled by Freddie Green’s guitar?


That syncopated rhythm of drummer Rufus “Speedy” Jones, who played with Basie, Duke Ellington, and Maynard Ferguson?


All those work songs and game songs and praise songs, shouts, and spirituals?


Ranky Tanky.

That’s contemporary Gullah at its best.

Members of the band – Quiana Parler, vocalist; Quentin Baxter, drums;, Kevin Hamilton, bass; Charlton Singleton, trumpet/vocals; and Clay Ross, guitar/vocals – consider themselves “protectors of the tradition” who are raising awareness for the tradition.

Ranky Tanky certainly turned heads when the quintet performed at New York City’s Globalfest.

“The biggest surprise of the evening, though, came not from Asia nor Africa. It came from South Carolina, where a quintet called Ranky Tanky has updated the Gullah tradition of the Georgia/Carolina sea islands with gospel vocals, jazz trumpet solos and an R&B rhythm section. Isolated on those islands, slaves developed their own language and music that remained more African than anything on the mainland, creating a culture like no other…Ranky Tanky…transforms the hymns, party anthems and children’s songs of the islands into infectiously rocking numbers. Quiana Parler is a big-voiced, joyful singer; Charlton Singleton is a marvelous trumpeter, and Clay Ross stitches everything together with his introductions and unusual rhythm-guitar solos. Like the best of globalFEST, Ranky Tanky proved that exotic music can be both unfamiliar enough to be surprising, and yet familiar enough to provoke swinging hips and nodding heads. When it works, it’s the best of both worlds.”

And should do the same at the 41st annual Telluride Jazz Festival, Friday, August 4 – Sunday, August 6. Ranky Tanky is play different venues throughout the weekend.

Gullahs or Geechees’ history is the history of descendants of slaves who lived and still live on the coastal islands and Lowcountry along the coast of the southeastern United States, from the St. John’s River in Florida to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. (Gullah tends to be the preferred name in North and South Carolina; Geechee in Georgia and Florida.)

The Gullah people have sustained their treasured West African traditions and ways of life for generations. Their cultural impact on American music is undeniable.

Gullah communities dot the 400-mile strip, however, they are slowly disappearing, casualties of progress and our love affair with coastal living, read displacement by wealthy people seeking spectacular water views.

Ask and any older African American from the Lowcountry would tell you that, years ago, there was not much honor in calling attention publicly to one’s Gullah heritage. Today, however, the dialect is studied and respected, the food celebrated and imitated by chefs at fancy restaurants, the artisan crafts collected in museums – and the music recorded by professional players like Ranky Tanky.

“I think we’re definitely at a time where we will turn some heads with these songs,” Charles Singleton, vocals and trumpet, Ranky Tanky. “And we’ll be able to enlighten some folks on things…”

Ranky Tanky first came together in 1998  while studying music at the College of Charleston. Around that time the principals founded a popular local jazz quartet called, “The Gradual Lean.”

“Over the following decades, while moving in different artistic directions, we’ve continued to collaborate. Simply put, we are family,” Singleton explained.

With influences of jazz, blues, gospel, and folk music, Ranky Tanky’s repertoire is built on re-imagined arrangements of playful game songs, ecstatic shouts, heartbreaking spirituals, and delicate lullabies from the Gullah tradition, music sourced from early field recordings of artists such as Bessie Jones, John Davis, and Laura Rivers.

“Our contemporary interpretations have been shaped by the diverse musical backgrounds and living Gullah influences of our members,” Singleton added.

While Gullah songs are familiar to many African-Americans up and down the Southeast coast, each might be performed differently depending on community habits. Gullah is different everywhere — downtown, McClellanville, Awendaw, Round O, Georgetown, Beaufort.

“That’s because the songs, like most other cultural identifiers, have been handed down from generation to generation though an oral tradition,” Singleton said.

Gullah roughly translates as “people blessed ny God.”

We are blessed to have Ranky Tanky in town for Telluride Jazz.

For more, listen to a podcast featuring Charles Singleton.

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