Charleston’s homegrown chart-topping band Ranky Tanky, which includes three College of Charleston alums, took to Cistern Yard on June 2, 2018, as part of Spoleto Festival USA.

Ranky Tanky has had a meteoric rise on the music scene since its inception in 2016. The group, which includes Clay Ross ’98 on vocals and guitar, Quentin Baxter ’98 on drums, Kevin Hamilton ’95 on bass, Charlton Singleton on trumpet and vocals, and Quiana Parler on vocals, has performed across the globe and been featured on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross as well as Mountain Stage.

Ranky Tanky is one of a number of CofC-affiliated groups that will perform during Spoleto and its sister festival Piccolo Spoleto, which opened on Friday May 25, 2018. Catch the College of Charleston Young Artists Series, the Stelle di Domani Theatre Series and the series A World of Jewish Culture presented by the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program at performances running through June 10.

Ahead of Ranky Tanky’s sold-out show on the Cistern, The College Today caught up with Baxter, who is an adjunct faculty member of jazz percussion at CofC. He discusses what inspires him and what it’s been like bringing Gullah music, a sound that is the beating heart of Sunday morning music in most African-American churches across the Lowcountry, to mainstream audiences.

How did you get your start playing drums? 

I started playing drums in church at a very young age. I’m not certain of the exact age, but I have fond memories of playing percussion instruments, old boxes of Sunday School books, and whatever else was available on the “back bench.” I was just tall enough to stand and play the boxes on the church pew!

Ranky Tanky

How has Gullah music influenced your style? 

Throughout my childhood, our church would worship/fellowship with many other churches in the region. It was expected of us to learn the different ways each church went about worship services, songs, and rhythms. We never thought that anything was strangely different considering how much the songs and rhythms had in common regardless of denominational affiliations. It wasn’t until musicians, friends, and even family from “off” started to make fun of the way we clapped that created an awareness of how differently we did “things.” Fast forward, we came to understand the importance and cultural significance of the way we played.

What has been the best part of sharing Gullah music and culture with the world through Ranky Tanky? 

The rhythms of this culture, like those of most, makes you want to let go and “shake it up” a bit. Some respond in a dance that’s up and down while others side-to-side.” These rhythms, combined with powerful vocal inflections [Quiana Parler], can transcend one’s convictions and allow a pure channel of inspiration – the muse.

RELATED: Read how Quentin Baxter helped a combat veteran rediscover his rhythm.

How have your audiences connected with Gullah music? What do you hope to leave them with? 

When you hear people say, “Your music is like honey to the heart!” after a performance, it really offers a wonderful feeling, connecting the importance of music in my life that reaches back to childhood church experiences. Not that there’s only religious connotations to the music of Ranky Tanky because it’s certainly more than that.  Music in it’s totality does not signify the separation of spiritual and secular. Music in its totality does not signify the separation of spiritual and secular. That’s the intent of whomever our music serves to champion an authentic secular assessment of songs found within the Gullah Culture while staying true to the contextual messages found therein.

Can you share a favorite moment on tour with Ranky Tanky? 

My favorite moments on tour with Ranky Tanky are equally on and off of the stage! Honestly, there’s so much history, so many jokes, and the obvious celebration through music that makes it impossible to pick one. We laugh profusely! I’m laughing now while thinking about this…

Do you have a favorite Ranky Tanky tune?

However, if I could associate a favorite moment with a song, it would be Ranky Tanky’s version of “Sometime.” It usually starts featuring Slam [a nickname for Kevin Hamilton] with an extended solo on bass and works its way around. But when it comes back around to Quiana, WOW!!!  She consistently blows the roof off of every joint! Quiana is amazing!  Forever present on every song while on stage – and always ON POINT!