The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220   Message #3032154
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
14-Nov-10 - 05:07 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Going back a bit, here is relevant reference to non-maritime work-singing. RH Dana evidently took a trip to Cuba in Feb. of 1859, and the result is his travelogue, TO CUBA AND BACK (1859). At one point he visits a sugar plantation and observes the round-the-clock slavery of converting the cane into raw sugar. Here is is description of the singing.

The smell of juice and of sugarvapor, in all its stages, is intense. The negroes fatten on it. The clank of the engine, the steady grind of the machines, and the high, wild cry of the negroes at the caldrons to the stokers at the furnace doors, as they chant out their directions or wants—now for more fire, and now to scatter the fire—which must be heard above the din, "A-a-b'la! A-a-b'la!'" "E-e-cha candela!" "Pu-er-ta!", and the barbaric African chant and chorus of the gang at work filling the cane-troughs ;—all these make the first visit at the sugar-house a strange experience. But after one or two visits, the monotony is as tiresome as the first view is exciting. There is, literally, no change in the work There are the same noises of the machines, the same cries from negroes at the same spots, the same intensely sweet smell, the same state of the work in all its stages, at whatever hour you visit it, whether in the morning, or evening, at midnight, or at the dawn of the day. If you wake up at night, you hear the "A-a-b'la A-a-b'la!" "E-e-cha! E-e-cha!" of the caldron-men crying to the stokers, and the high, monotonous chant of the gangs filling the wagons or the trough, a short, improvisated stave, and then the chorus;—not a tune, like the song of sailors at the tackles and falls but a barbaric, tuneless intonation.

In 1859, Dana is still using his terminology of "song at tackles and falls". I wonder if, while away from sea, his vocabulary has been updated or not. Probably not, and it's not surprising he doesnt say "chanty."

But what is more deserving of careful thought: He says that these short, improvisated [intoned] staves, followed by chorus were *not* like the sailors' songs. Well, not like them for their lack of "tune" -- though his definition of "tune" is certainly subjective. One presumes he means that they didnt have much in the way of melodic leaps and they had a very narrow ambit, though they were still tunes at some level if ~intoned~. I think what he is saying is fairly clear, but I do wonder if he is comparing this to the "songs at the tackles and falls" of *his* day -- remembering that we are unclear what the songs/chanties were like in his day.