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Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?

ChrisJBrady 01 Oct 11 - 12:10 AM
doc.tom 01 Oct 11 - 04:17 AM
GUEST,CJB 01 Oct 11 - 05:10 AM
Gibb Sahib 01 Oct 11 - 06:21 PM
GUEST,robinia 01 Oct 11 - 07:06 PM
Lighter 01 Oct 11 - 08:16 PM
Charley Noble 01 Oct 11 - 08:28 PM
Charley Noble 20 Mar 12 - 12:59 PM
Mr Red 21 Mar 12 - 11:38 AM
Nerd 21 Mar 12 - 05:29 PM
Charley Noble 22 Mar 12 - 03:39 PM
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Subject: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: ChrisJBrady
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 12:10 AM

Origins of Shanties as Work Songs - as negro (slave) work songs?

Gandy Dancers

http://www.folkstreams.net/film,101

Musical traditions and recollections of eight retired African-American railroad track laborers whose occupational folk songs were once heard on railroads that crisscross the South. They recount experiences in the segregated South, describe organized labor and occupational safety standards, and demonstrate railroad calls that survive today as expressions of religious faith, social protest and sexually explicit poetry. A film by Barry Dornfeld and folklorist Maggie Holtzberg.

Gandy Dancers 1973

http://www.folkstreams.net/film,223

This remarkable film features field recordings of work chants of Gandy Dancers including aligning songs and chants to knock out slack in the rail. The accompanying visual shows men working with cross ties, aligning the track, and spiking. The film focuses on the changes brought about by mechanization of railroad building.

Jack Schrader shot this film with a 16mm Bolex camera without sync sound. It is part of a 1973 series of films created by Schrader and Folklorist Thomas Burton. These films are streamed on Folkstreams and the 16mm prints.


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: doc.tom
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 04:17 AM

Oh, boy! Terrific. Great post - thank you


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: GUEST,CJB
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 05:10 AM

Great films....!!


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 06:21 PM

"Birmingham ain't no ham at all
You oughta see that ham up my gal drawer"


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: GUEST,robinia
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 07:06 PM

It doesn't just have to be slave labor.   Any repetitive work can inspire song -- hence the Scottish traditional wauking songs, sung by women beating new woven cloth to shrink it down to size.    Ironically, music that used to make work more bearable can also make us forget the whole point of the thing. I'll never forget a "wauking workshop" where we sang Gallic wauking songs and rhythmically tugged on a lovely wool cloth (woven by one of the group). Indeed we carried on so enthusiastically that we over-shrank the cloth, effectively ruining it for further use...


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: Lighter
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 08:16 PM

Since the shanties were in existence in the 1830s and the railroads didn't become prominent till years later, it's more likely that the sailors influenced the section hands than the other way round.

That's assuming there was any significant influence at all. Consider too the "hammer songs" of Southern chain-gangs.

Of course, they all could have had a common ancestor, for all we know.


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 08:28 PM

Lighter-

I'm seeing a vision of some way-back ancestor in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia pounding out coffee beans in a wooden mortar to the rhythm of tor-ri-lay, tor-ri-oh!

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 20 Mar 12 - 12:59 PM

I've found another literary reference to African work chants. In this case its Eritrean day laborers cleaning the bottoms of ships in a dry dock in the Port of Massawa on the Red Sea during World War 2, from Under the Red Sea Sun by Commander Edward Ellsberg, pp. 173.

Commander Ellsberg was in charge of bringing the former Italian Navy yard, which had been sabotaged by the Italians before their defeat by the British and Ethiopian forces, back into full operation. When he got the floating dry dock operational and work had begun scraping the barnacles and weeds off the bottom of the first transport ship, he was greatly disappointed in the pace of the work. He then proposed an economic incentive to the sheiks in charge of the labor force, that if their work crews could do the job in less than the three days contracted they would still be paid three days wages. This was the result:

Then the Eritreans went back to work. Had I waved a magic wand over those Eritreans to transform them, the results could not have been more miraculous...A fierce jungle chant, drowning out all else, rose from all over the dry dock and never ceased; to its barbaric rhythm, there were those puny, previously lifeless Eritreans dancing wildly beneath the hull of the Koritza, while they slashed savagely away overhead with their scrapers at the barnacles!

Of course no attempt was made by Commander Ellsberg to transcribe the work chants but the work was done ahead of schedule, two days instead of three.

It should be mentioned that the climate in Massawa is best known for its high humidity and 100 degree plus F. temperatures.

Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: Mr Red
Date: 21 Mar 12 - 11:38 AM

I always remember going round the Worcster Porcelain Works in the 70's and the girls there were painting the ceramics and singing snatches of popular songs and then laughing. Individually, call and answer I guess.
They were amusing themselves with lewd variations.
Which is the other aspect of work songs - relieving the boredom.


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: Nerd
Date: 21 Mar 12 - 05:29 PM

It's a great film...I used to use it in my teaching all the time.

The whole of Folkstreams is a great site...you should check out all the films there.

Finally, as others have said, this film as such presents no evidence for the "origins of shanties" as "negro (slave) work songs." If anything, it suggests what we already know: work songs were a major component of the blues. Phrases like "Birmingham ain't no ham at all
You oughta see that ham up my gal drawer" sound not a bit like shanties....


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Subject: RE: Origins of Shanties as Work Songs?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 22 Mar 12 - 03:39 PM

Nerd-

"Phrases like "Birmingham ain't no ham at all
You oughta see that ham up my gal drawer" sound not a bit like shanties...."

Oh, I don't know. How about some of the bawdy verses of such traditional shanties such as "Sally Rackett" and "Johnny Come Down to Hilo"?

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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