The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2846255
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
21-Feb-10 - 08:06 PM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
My couple thoughts here are not really directed at any one specific thing. Mostly I am just following up on my mention that "Heave Away" (Sandburg) had me thinking.

I am inclined to think that this "Heave Away" example is brilliant evidence brought in by Hugill to illustrate one of the common ways chanties had developed.

"Heave Away" mirrors the "story" exemplified by "Blow the Man" -- and we're in the realm of interpretation here, not proof. "Blow the Man Down" looks like it was based in an African-American work song, "Knock a Man Down." When I say "based in", keep in mind my take on the definition of a chanty -- that its core identity is a tune (roughly) and a chorus phrase. And the form the chanties take, at a certain early period, at least, is something that I think emerged from African-American work song style. I like the term "African-American" in this case because it has the possibility of being inclusive of U.S. and Caribbean Black expressions, i.e. "American" as the Americas, the New World...and the idea that people of African heritage, having come to the New World, created a form of expression that was both based in African practices and also had an essential element of European culture to it.

That being my interpretation, I see the various, once-used solo verse lyrics of Blow the Man Down as something peripheral to the chantey's fundamental identity. Sets of ballad-like verses had been spliced onto the chantey, like those from "Ratcliffe Highway", "The Fishes," "The Milkmaid," etc. These verses were more likely supplied by Anglo-Irish-Americans, one would imagine.

Taken as as specific instance, one can look at a version of BTMD and say that such and such was Black influence and such and such is Irish influence, etc. And I would agree with that. Moreover, I would say that it becomes fairly pointless at that level to try to attribute the chantey to any particular ethnic/national group. So I am not trying to say that BTMD must be acknowledged as a Black chantey.

I am saying, rather, that I think the base form of BTMD emerged at one point from African-American culture, as that was just a fact of the chantey genre of that time/type. I would not say, when strictly speaking, that BTMD was "Black-influenced", because that 1) downgrades my assertion that its genre was, *at its core*, Black and 2) implies the chantey genre's genesis was not of any particular culture. It is like talking about "Black-influenced Rap." I mean, it is recognized today that anyone can and will Rap, and that many have had an influence on the genre. Rap is not the property of Black people [anymore]. But we do reserve an awareness that, however the genre is used, it was mainly a product of Black culture. "Black-influenced chanty" is almost like "Chanty-influenced chanty"--i.e. a proper chanty of the period. And if *that* sounds really weird, try this. Suppose we remove the identifier "Black," not wanting to ascribe chanties too closely to an easily-identified ethnic group. Well, I'd still say that chanties are to be ascribed to *some* cultural group (be it "screwman's culture" or "sailor's culture") and it would amount to the same thing that he chanties have a fundamental cultural basis that is not to be skewed by incidental or latter additions/variations.

I am not trying to force my interpretation of "chanties, proper" as a product of Black culture. I'm establishing it so you'll know how I read the various attributions of chanties to lists like "Black-influenced chanties." So for instance, I consider "A Long Time Ago" to be a Black chantey --in the context of an "origins" discussion-- and as such to attribute only one form of it as Black-influenced just sounds weird to me. The variations are neither here nor there. They tell us about the trajectory of the genre, who was singing the chanties at certain points, etc. They don't affect a given chanty's "original" identity.

Thinking again about how the halyard chanties seem to be more of the "original" chanties (or Black chanties, if you will)... (And again: how many non-Black halyard chanties can we think of? The short hauls existed earlier than the "chantey creation era"; I am thinking of the "Haul on the Bowline"s. AND, there were "capstan songs" (e.g. THE QUID); one could scarcely imagine no songs at all being sung at some point during that older chore. But remember that halyard chanties -- the intermittent action kind of work song, like for cotton-screwing, and which should really be distinguished well from capstan chanties -- emerged during the period of the new packet ships. I think there is a really important correlation between the time period, the type of work (heavy yard hoisting) on the ships, and African-American work song genres that brought it all together. In the least, one should really differentiate this era of chanties and the form of halyard chanties (which were the ones that Hugill notes were the most irrevocably "salty") from the mass of other stuff thrown in under the term "chantey." Earlier there were maritime work songs, yes. And later on, once the habit of singing became ubiquitous on ships, there were many more songs adopted and filed under "chantey." But there was something distinct about the genre (seemingly) first born of the 1830s-1840s. Black influence being a given on that, for me "Black-influence" actually becomes irrelevant to the discussion.