“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, which takes its name for the Gullah phrase for “work it” or “get down,” 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.
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