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Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen

Gibb Sahib 21 Aug 17 - 07:42 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 22 Aug 17 - 01:13 AM
Gibb Sahib 22 Aug 17 - 05:23 AM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 22 Aug 17 - 01:15 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 22 Aug 17 - 09:05 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 22 Aug 17 - 09:09 PM
Gibb Sahib 23 Aug 17 - 06:55 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 23 Aug 17 - 11:32 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 24 Aug 17 - 03:57 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 24 Aug 17 - 04:01 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 24 Aug 17 - 10:20 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 03 Sep 17 - 02:46 AM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 03 Sep 17 - 04:20 AM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 12 Jan 18 - 05:38 PM
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Subject: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 21 Aug 17 - 07:42 PM

I imagine some people familiar with Trini music may have something to add here.

I'm not coming into this thread having done much text research, so I'm interested in what people's experiences may have been in relation to this topic: "chantwell."

"Chantwell" is the term given to the song leader in call-and-response traditions of the southern Lesser Antilles -- or so I've extrapolated! It is functionally equivalent to the term "chantyman," which was used for the caller of chanties (generally, work-songs). Because the musical form of antiphonal chanties was the same as the form of other (non-work) genres in the Afro-Caribbean culture, it makes sense that one might use "chantwell" or "chantyman" across the board to refer to lead singers.

Two points to ground the discussion:

1) I believe the term "chanty" comes from "chantyman." Discussants from the time when these terms were emerging (at least in written discourse, in Anglophone shipping context) placed a distinct emphasis on the term for the song leader, i.e. chantyman, whereas the need for a special term for song-items was less. Now, where the term "chantyman" comes from is another matter?but one that I think "chantwell" might shed some light on.

2) I understand, from interviews with men on the island of Carriacou (a territory of Grenada), that they call the lead singer of chanties and of other call-and-response songs the chantwell. They pronounced it with the "ch" as in French. These men are descendants of chanty singers that A. Lomax recorded on the island in the 1960s.

I am *vaguely* aware, through secondary sources, that the song leader in cariso, i.e. ~the prototype of calypso of Trinidad, is also called chantwell. Carriacou, it can be noted, is somewhat in the cultural orbit of Trinidad, though it's not obvious what direction everything flowed. Carriacou's old Creole language is French based, though the mainstream language now is English. The island's chanties are in Creole English, while other songs (e.g. cantique) are in Creole French and still others (Big Drum) are in African languages. In discussion with one man (whom I'll call SB) remembering the old songs, the terms chants, chant, chanté, shanties, and chantwell were all mixed up in a discourse that refereed to French and English creole songs.

It would be good to know more about how "chantwell" is used in Trinidad (and how it is pronounced?) and if it is used elsewhere. Previously I had thought that "chantyman" originated in a Creole French environment of some sort (French as spoken by people of African descent in the Americas) but was thinking of the French legacy areas of the Southern U.S. (New Orleans, Mobile) as the site of development. But now I wonder if it can be ascribed to other areas of French-English creole mixture.


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 22 Aug 17 - 01:13 AM

Every Mother lovin' Sunday morning.

English church - The Cantor (First Singer) and the psalms chants.

French church ? The Chantre and if the Singer was a "she" (ie: kalinda fighting) it's chantre elle (chantuelle ? chantwell.)

But calypso isn't work or call-response song (chan traval or lavwa). It's solo social commentary (chan pwen lit. "point song".)


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 22 Aug 17 - 05:23 AM

Thanks, Phil. Could you fill in more descriptive details. For example, I sad that the men I talked to used "chantwell" so and so.

I referred to cariso, perhaps mischaracterizing its relationship to calypso. I understand it relates to kalinda, but I'm not asserting anything -- rather just using it as a prompt. Please enlighten.

Here is kalinda with the song of "Rosie", the relative of what is also documented as a ring play song "Coming Down with Bunch of Roses" and Bahamian and Afro-American sailors' song "Come Down, you Bunch of Roses."
https://youtu.be/LS1McrmSzHA

My point having been that the term "chantyman" should not be stuck linked to the genre of chanties (i.e. as often conceived in these discussions, a sailor's work-song) but theorized more broadly in terms of a lead singer in culturally related Afro-Caribbean/American traditions. Work is at best only a setting for the songs, and not the number one defining element.

The Carriacou men did not seem to imply that a "chantwell" was exclusively female, so while the derivation "chantre elle" makes sense, it appears chantwell may have taken on a life apart from the original literal meaning. I'd be interested to know where that does and doesn't hold.


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 22 Aug 17 - 01:15 PM

Not sure I ever saw the word "chantwell" before 1970 or so. I had always assumed it was relatively modern Euro-American slang (re)adopted-adapted by islanders; the usual French to English manglish and folklorization. What is the earliest usage in the sources?

In my experience, "chantwell" was only for the French Christians of Trinidad. The English speaking Spiritual Baptists, descendant of the Merikins and the Gullah, had "First Shouters" (no longer accepted usage.)

It's all, mostly, based in Christianity. They're all the head music person in the company - historian, teacher, lead singer &c.


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 22 Aug 17 - 09:05 PM

A post Middle Passage West African Griot wouldn't be far from a cantor/calypsonian imo.

Ref: Cowley ? Carnival, Canboulay & Calypso, 1996 (most quotable I've found so far)

The index combines ? chant(er), chantrel(s), chantuelles, chantwells(s), Maitre Chantrel & shâtwél.

No Cantor(s).

On Shanties

"Some cultural traits continued (>1838), such as the call and response singing of work songs, including shanties (chanties)." (p.5)

"In general, drum dances feature call and response singing, with the lead singer improvising verses to a common chorus. The chantwell can be male or female, as may be the chorus, and the form is generally accepted as African in origin.

Ranging from sea shanties to communal self-help, such as
gayap in Trinidad, manual labour gangs used call and response singing. Work songs were employed on plantations and in prison farms (in the United States) and other forms of occupation, or enslavement, where rhythmic work was necessary. Improvisation by a lead singer was usual in these collective songs with the chantwell's." (p.230)

The terms and definitions are 1996 Cowley.


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 22 Aug 17 - 09:09 PM

Trini newspapers (Cowley)

"The instruments specified to accompany 'chantrels' in the tents of Carnival bands show a mix of string and percussion." Argos, 1912 (p.182)

"A novelty in creole music is afforded in calypsos after the rendering of 'Julian White Rose', the celebrated chantrel, whose voice has lost none of its sweetness. Mirror, 1915 (p.197)"

"In this earlier era, the costumes of different bands changed little and the 'versatility was emphasised in the songs of rival chantuelles'." Gazette, 1917 (p.206)

"The Creole Song may be either in Patois or English and must be with leader (chantrel) and chorus,..." Argos Masked Carnival Competition, 1919 (p.210-211)

"The director was a tall pleasant faced individual in whom I recognised an old chant of the glorious carnivals of the late 90's." Guardian, 1920 (p.223)

No "chantwells" yet... still reading.


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 23 Aug 17 - 06:55 PM

Hi Phil, thanks for exploring this topic.

I personally am not concerned with sticking exclusively to the form "chantwell"; that was simply the form I encountered. I think any of the variations (e.g. chantuelle, chantrel) are equally relevant to the topic.

Much more interesting to me is that, according to one derivation, the term is originally feminine, yet at some point was adopted as unisex. That suggests the "original" context for the term was one where women were the song leaders, after which the gendered association was dropped as the term, by analogy, was applied to other song-leader scenarios.

Engaging some specific points below?some of my questions are merely rhetorical:

1. "if the Singer was a "she" (ie: kalinda fighting) it's chantre elle (chantuelle ? chantwell.)"
Am I correct in inferring that song-leaders for kalinda were, at one point, always or mostly women? If so, when did this change?

As per my reasoning above, it seems possible that kalinda was the "original" context for "chantre elle > chantwell", after which the word may have been adopted without consideration of gender.

2. re: Cowley's comment, "In general, drum dances feature call and response singing, with the lead singer improvising verses to a common chorus. The chantwell can be male or female..."
This is comparable to the "Big Drum" genre of Carriacou, in which the lead singers are called chantwell.

"Ranging from sea shanties to communal self-help, such as gayap in Trinidad, manual labour gangs used call and response singing. .... Improvisation by a lead singer was usual in these collective songs with the chantwell's."

Not sure is there is a typo here. In any case, Cowley seems to be comparing the form and method of work-songs to performances by a chantwell, without actually saying that the lead singer of a work-song was called a chantwell. (?)
My (limited) experience in Carriacou was that people were content, in lieu of another term, to call the lead singer of chanties as chantwell, and that they didn't necessarily know the term "chantyman" which is used to the North.

Also, what Cowley is saying is exactly my original point -- that chanty-singing and the things a chantwell might do are performances in a similar cultural vein?potentially allowing for slippage of the term chantwell between the various related genres.

The LARGER point I am hoping to establish, which has bearing on the study of chanty history, is that the term "chantyman" is not necessarily derived from "chanty." That is, the song-term "chanty" does not give the singer-term. The singer-term "chantyman" -- by analogy to "chantwell"-- could be there as a broader term for lead singer. In the earliest known source, Nordhoff (in Mobile, AL) , the lead singer was "chantyman" and the songs were called the more expected "chant." It's some time before we get reference to "chanty," which I think may be a kind of back-derivation from chantyman.

Anyway, I found this definition in _Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad and Tobago_ (2009):

chantwel, chantelle, chantrel, chantuel, chantwell... 1.... [obsolete] The leader of a work-song... 2. A singer at a KALINDA battle... 3. The musical or singing leader of a CARNIVAL BAND

Dictionary - scroll one page up


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 23 Aug 17 - 11:32 PM

From the top:

"1. Am I correct in inferring that song-leaders for kalinda were, at one point, always or mostly women? If so, when did this change?"

Note: Protestants don't really do Easter (carnival, kalinda, goombay &c). They come out to play around Christmas & New Years (waits, junkanoo, mummers.)

With a very broad brush:

Early period: Slave era French Catholic carnival was celebrated as fête de la quémande and that never really died out. Rural Béké & Acadians still celebrate Courir de Mardi Gras the old way. Gender is for role reversal en masque so... anybody can sing lead. Everybody knows who the (co)capitans are anyway.

The songs may be in the nature of cariso and some younger "crews" do get rowdy at times but there is a communal meal to follow so murder and arson are right off the program. One assumes slaves celebrated in a mash-up of their respective owners' and individual tribal customs.

Middle Era: After emancipation things got ugly pretty quick. Street gangs took over the urban holiday processions. The roles of chanter & chorus (& first aid, ammunition bearer &c) fell to women while the men took to stick fighting, rock and bottle throwing. Riot grrrls and riot songs. People died.

Like New Orleans' Bourbon Street Mardi Gras, things slowly gentrified and commercialized. By the turn of the century they'd settled down to the classic road march and calypso tent era. The rough elements, male & female, got cleaned up and good old patriarchal chauvinism settled in.

Late Era: c.1900's Trinidad that meant the top jobs invariably went to upper/middle class males, Catholic, Protestant, whatevs. Universal adult suffrage didn't arrive until 1946; the first calypso "Queen" in the 1970s.

The 78rpm record that frames our perspective of French Catholic Carnival music was pretty much useless for the hours long call and reply road marches. One can squeeze a tent calypso down to the 3-4 minute standard with no effort at all. And that's how we remember the Carnival "chantwell" today ? a male calypsonian fronting a small European style orchestra.

More to follow...


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 24 Aug 17 - 03:57 PM

Typo: Gayap? Think communal barn raisings and corn shuckings and you won't be far off.

Re: Carriacou ? chantwell ? chantyman north-south usage. No idea how to validate something like this as "authentic" -v- "National Geographic" (or Folkways, Cowley, a blogger...)


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 24 Aug 17 - 04:01 PM

"Also, what Cowley is saying is exactly my original point -- that chanty-singing and the things a chantwell might do are performances in a similar cultural vein?potentially allowing for slippage of the term chantwell between the various related genres.

A nonviolent carnival chantrel would be leading external praise & holiday fare. "Here's to a great crop. I'm okay. You're okay."

A Canboulay riot girl would be leading self praise and trash talk. "We're the baddest. Resistance is futile."

A tent era calypso chantrel wasn't leading a chorus at all.

None of the above are repetitive work song chantrels.

An Old Testament Cantor, the chantyman and Harry Belafonte all seek the same goal?

Enchantment - They want to harness the energies of the audience to get something done ? Praise the Lord; haul the bowline; pay the rent.

Slippage indeed.


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 24 Aug 17 - 10:20 PM

The Bahamian version of a calypsonian was also a type of "chaunter" but they were not limited to carnival season. They made sport of the local headlines and gossip in freestyle verse all year 'round.

The commercial equivalent was a "patter" like Carmen Bliss' John Camplejohn in On Bay Street.

And a "cant" (ie: Cantor) was mysterious secret language spoken right out in the open (sound familiar?)

Ephemera: "Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words"


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 03 Sep 17 - 02:46 AM

Giving a whole new meaning to rambling discussion here but, you should find a celeuma or three running around down yonder somewheres.

Believe it or don't Gibb, you're as close to Grandma Conchy's theory on the origins as any I've ever heard, it's why the thread title caught me? wrong genus & species mind you...

Her folklore said the common link between a shanty shack and a chanty song was cantharellus cibarius.

Because shanties pop up like mushrooms overnight and the fungus is called that because, like a good chant, it has that little "umpf" (ie: pepper) to it.

PS: Don't know about all that but Grams chanty crisps were to die for.


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 03 Sep 17 - 04:20 AM

PPS: The chanterelle mushroom looks like the little brass bell for timing chants & rowing.

It's not the singer.


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Subject: RE: Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 05:38 PM

Me: "The Bahamian version of a calypsonian was also a type of "chaunter" but they were not limited to carnival season. They made sport of the local headlines and gossip in freestyle verse all year 'round."

American folklorist Zora Neale Hurston's 1929 encounter with a Bay Street, Nassau chanter:

The next day I got an idea of what prolific song-makers the Bahamans are. With that West African accent grafted on English of the uneducated Bahaman, I was told, "You do anything, we put you in sing." I walked carefully to keep out of "sing."

[Hurston, Zora Neale, Dust Track on a Road (New York: Harper Perennial, 1996, pp.157-58)]


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