Shared from the 6/7/2018 The Providence Journal eEdition


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Ranky Tanky puts its own spin on traditional Gullah music of the South


Ranky Tanky employs traditional elements of Gullah music, but adds instruments such as trumpet and electric guitar. The band performs on Sunday, the final day of downtown’s PVDFest. [REESE MOORE]

PVDFest Highlights

Most events are free, with the exception of Thursday’s conference.

Thursday: Conference on “Cyborg Cities: People Technology and Urban Spaces,” Providence Public Library, 150 Empire St. 8:30 a.m-5 p.m. $15.

Friday: 5 p.m. to midnight. Attempt to break the Guinness World Record for most people dancing the Bachata, 8 p.m., 40 Snow St. Australia’s Sway Poles, 7:30, 10 p.m., 101 Washington St.

Saturday: Noon to midnight. Food village at Kennedy Plaza; Mini-Maker Faire, 260 Westminster St.; parade from Empire and Washington streets, 4 p.m.; bumper car races on Dorrance Street; Pilobolus’ “The Umbrella Project,” 8:30, 9:30, 10:30 p.m., 101 Washington St.

Sunday: Noon to 6 p.m. Food village; Squonk Opera: Cycle Sonic!, 2, 4 p.m., 1 Exchange St.; Ranky Tanky, 5 p.m., 25 Dorrance St. Locations and times are subject to change. For more information, go to


Festival-goers can join Pilobolus in “The Umbrella Project,” an interactive art experience that will take place at 8:30, 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday at 101 Washington St. [CHAO CHEONG]


If you go...

Ranky Tanky will perform Sunday, June 10, at 5 p.m. at 25 Dorrance St., Providence, with Rhode Island’s Collegium Ancora Choir as part of PVDFest. For information go to

In the Gullah culture, “Ranky Tanky” is loosely translated as “work it” or “get funky.” And that’s what the band Ranky Tanky, which creates a contemporary version of Gullah music, plans to do as part of the PVD-Fest in downtown Providence on Sunday.

The Gullah people are the descendants of West African slaves who were brought to the coastal low country and Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina to work on the rice plantations. Most of them were brought across the Atlantic from rice-producing regions in Africa. Because of their relative isolation, the Gullah developed their own culture and a creole language that combines English with words and grammar from several African languages.

Traditional Gullah music uses a cappella vocals, hand claps and foot stomps and is often spiritual in nature. Ranky Tanky uses those elements, but adds instruments such as trumpet and electric guitar and includes elements of jazz, blues, country, gospel and funk.

“We take a ton of liberties,” said guitarist and singer Clay Ross. “Gullah is a living culture, and the music has evolved to include instruments. What we do is a secular interpretation of what is normally presented in a sacred context ... but it’s important to everyone in the band to honor the source of the music.”

All five members of the band are from South Carolina, although all five do not share Gullah heritage. Drummer Quentin E. Baxter, bassist Kevin Hamilton and trumpet player Charlton Singleton are of Gullah ancestry. Powerhouse singer Quiana Parler and Ross, the only white musician in the band, do not.

“As close as I am to it, I’m a disciple of the culture, I’m not a descendant of the culture,” Ross said.

With the exception of Parler, band members met in the 1990s while studying music at the College of Charleston, and formed a jazz quartet named Gradual Lean in 1998, before going their separate ways. “These were among the first jazz artists I met, my mentors. I still look at them as big brothers,” Ross said. “I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be in a band with people I’ve admired for years.”

In 2002, Ross moved to New York City. He became interested in the music of Brazil, and cofounded a band called Matuto, which links American rural music with the sounds of Brazil. But he was missing something.

“It became meaningful for me to look at the music of the state where I was born. When I went to world music festivals, I didn’t see anyone representing Gullah,” he said.

So he got the idea to form Ranky Tanky in 2016, recruiting his former colleagues from Gradual Lean. For the singer, he said, Parler was the only choice. A contestant on season two of “American Idol” (although not the winner), Parler is a South Carolina favorite.

“She has the gift. She’s the queen, the voice, of Charleston, South Carolina. There were no auditions. She was just the obvious choice,” Ross said. “We’ve known her since she was 13, and she was gifted then. I remember hearing her sing and just being blown away. She can do anything she wants.”

Originally, Ross said, Ranky Tanky was intended to be something of a side project for its members, but it has grown into something more. The band released its first album, “Ranky Tanky,” in October using traditional Gullah songs, although the arrangements were often updated. Now, Ross said, they are at work writing their own songs for a new album.

“[Gullah] is powerful music, and it’s amazing the feedback we get from people ... anything I could have hoped for when bringing this group together has been greatly exceeded,” he said.

See this article in the e-Edition Here