Ranky Tanky brings Gullah charm to the KNKX studios
Some of the earliest music of America, created by the enslaved Africans and their descendants along the country’s southeastern coast, is getting a fresh makeover by the young musicians of Ranky Tanky. They performed four songs from their hit second album, Good Time, to a loving studio audience here at KNKX that we’re proud to share with you.
Charleton Singleton, who plays trumpet and also sings with Ranky Tanky, grew up in the Gullah culture around Charleston, South Carolina. He heard the traditional songs, always performed without instruments, sang by his grandfather as a child. He never imagined reworking the songs with his jazz musician friends.
That’s where guitarist Clay Ross comes in. He first saw Singleton and Ranky Tanky’s future drummer Quentin Baxter playing the Gullah classic, “Wade in the Water,” and was instantly charmed. When he suggested to the band that they could further explore this folk music in a jazz setting, Singleton just laughed.
The music is lively, soulful, authentic and deeply emotional. It’s also music of the common man, often drawing on children’s games and songs of the church. Adding instrumentation — trumpet, guitar, bass and drums — wasn’t really done.
Singer Quiana Parler was familiar with this music as a young girl in church, but also studied with an opera singer and provides a powerful voice that elevates everything Ranky Tanky does.
Together, with bassist Kevin Hamilton, Ranky Tanky makes music that moves you. It’s vividly emotional, sometimes somber. A tune like “O, Death” from their debut album can bring you to tears, as the band themselves can attest.
Their sophomore album, Good Time, carries a more joyful spirit throughout — as the name suggests. It also includes the band’s first original songs written in the Gullah style. They shared both of them, “Stand By Me” and “Freedom,” with our studio session audience. Also including the new album’s title song and a tune of “love and compassion” called “Beat 'Em Down,” KNKX was honored to welcome Ranky Tanky as they continue to carry this American music with them around the world.