Ranky Tanky, Gullah Music And The Rocky Coast Of Maine

Written by Ovations’ Artistic and Executive Director, Aimée Petrin


Deep in the crowded lower level of the now-closed Webster Hall in NYC, I was among a throng of people on a cold January night dancing, singing, rejoicing to the sounds of Ranky Tanky. By the time they reached their song with its eponymous refrain, everyone was shouting RANKY TANKY in unison.

I knew going into globalFEST 2017 that this was a band whose inspiration is found in Gullah music. A culture belonging to West African slaves and preserved on islands off of South Carolina. But, listening to Ranky Tanky, I wasn’t transported to the warm shores of South Carolina, I was thinking about the rocky coast of Maine.

Here in Maine we have 3,166 coastal islands. Each one has its own beauty, personality, culture and community life and history. Islands are a part of Maine’s individualist spirit and frontier bravado. They represent a romantic notion of a simpler time. They are both home to multiple generations of Maine families and the destination of vacationers. Occasionally, one even comes up for sale and dreams are ignited.

Maine’s unique island culture inspires artists living and creating here and as well as those who visit. At this very moment, world renowned, Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates is exhibiting in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo with a show called “Amalgam,” inspired by Maine’s own disturbing history of Malaga Island.

Knowing something about the artists, having some context, changed my experience of Ranky Tanky. Without a doubt, they are fantastic, infectious musicians in their own right. But it was this imagined connection to Maine and the idea of sharing these artists with our community that compelled us to bring them to Portland. I invite you to enrich your own Ranky Tanky experience by attending the per-performance lecture by Maine-based, Georgia native, artist Daniel Minter, as he explores the Black southern culture and the folklore that inspires him and others, like the musicians of Ranky Tanky. See you on the dance floor!