CEDAR RAPIDS — When Ranky Tanky performed Monday at Johnson STEAM Academy, student Will Hatchell loved it so much that he brought his parents to the band’s Tuesday night performance at CSPS Hall. And he and his mom were the first ones up and dancing to the bouncy Gullah island beats.
It wasn’t a hard sell.
“We love Legion Arts and CSPS and come here often,” said Will’s mom, Kimberly Dukes. Will, who turns 9 today (9/14), whirled and twirled with abandon through most of the nearly two-hour concert that launched Legion Arts’ 10th annual Landfall Festival of World Music.
The weeklong event is bringing 32 musicians from 12 countries to the heart of Cedar Rapids for a series of indoor and outdoor concerts, school presentations and pop-up shows around town through Saturday.
Ranky Tanky lives up to its loose translations of “work it” and “get funky.” The Charleston, S.C., quintet did all that and more, as it entertained and educated 50 enthusiastic audience members on the culture of the islands along the Carolina and Georgia coastlines. Four of the band members are direct descendants of the African slaves who lived on the coastal plain and Sea Islands. The fifth performer, guitarist Clay Ross, is “a convert,” trumpet player and frontman Charlton Singleton told the crowd.
All five band members are elite musicians, from Grammy nominated drummer Quentin E. Baxter to “American Idol” alum Quiana Parler on lead vocals. All have kept good company in jazz, pop and country realms, performing with the likes of Gregory Hines, Miranda Lambert, Phil Ramone and David Foster.
Those worlds are reflected in the band’s music, which weaves jazz trumpet, gospel vocals and R&B rhythms into traditional spirituals, laments and odes to joy.
The opening a cappella harmonies on “Join the Band” established the blend of their individual artistry before melting into funky Caribbean beats. Friends for “a long time” but performing together for just two years, they gave the audience a taste of nearly every song from their self-titled debut album, due out in October.
It’s an eclectic collection that includes “You Better Mind,” swinging with a blend of New Orleans jazz and gospel, including razor-sharp, crystalline three-part vocal harmonies, backed by bassist Kevin Hamilton and drummer Baxter smiling all the way.
Everyone took dazzling solo turns throughout the evening, beginning with Parler’s soulful, rendition of the spiritual “Turtle Dove,” and later in the show, wailing to the heavens on the lament, “Been in the Storm.”
More often, the spirit of the evening was upbeat, with gentle Calypso beats and rollicking dance rhythms that had the crowd on their feet, movin’ and groovin’ before the final standing ovation.
You have two more chances to get funky with the bunch, at 6 p.m. today (9/14) at the Cedar Rapids Public Library and 4 p.m. Friday (9/15) on the lawn at NewBo City Market. I guarantee the library won’t be quiet.