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The origin of Sea Chanteys

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Charley Noble 14 May 01 - 05:43 PM
SeanM 14 May 01 - 05:03 PM
radriano 14 May 01 - 04:41 PM
GUEST,Albamist 14 May 01 - 04:20 PM
lady penelope 14 May 01 - 03:13 PM
Charley Noble 14 May 01 - 02:46 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 14 May 01 - 02:44 PM
Naemanson 14 May 01 - 02:21 PM
Don Firth 14 May 01 - 02:12 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 14 May 01 - 02:07 PM
Mrrzy 14 May 01 - 01:59 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 14 May 01 - 01:34 PM
Micca 14 May 01 - 01:24 PM
Wolfgang 14 May 01 - 01:18 PM
IanC 14 May 01 - 01:07 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 14 May 01 - 01:01 PM
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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: Charley Noble
Date: 14 May 01 - 05:43 PM

Transplanted from the Blood Red Roses thread:

Hugill does mention in his introduction to Songs of the Sea that the earliest reference he could find to shanty singing (a crew pulling on a rope, with a lead singing coordinating them) was in the book of a Dominican friar, one Felix Fabri of Ulm, Germany, "who in 1493 sailed aboard a Venetian galley to Palestine."

Let's all raise a glass to Friar Felix!

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: SeanM
Date: 14 May 01 - 05:03 PM

Hugill mentions two shanties as of probably Elizabethan origin, with one even earlier - "A-Rovin'" being the Elizabethan, and "Haul on the Bowline" being of probable earlier genesis. Admittedly, the reasoning given for the dating is that the bowline ceased being a 'heavy work' line some time in apparently the 14th century, and thus not needing a full shanty for work purposes.

'Shanties of the Seven Seas' covers a lot of this topic, along with Doerflinger's work and a few others... After reading what they've written, as well as other independent sources (encyclopaedias, national histories, etc.), I don't agree that African influences were responsible for the evolution of the sea shanty. They were a definite shaping influence, but not the MAJOR influence.

The closest conglomerate explanation that I'd agree to is that sailors were using 'call outs' or 'sing outs' (rythmic yells and stamping in time to the work) to time the pulling. While African tribes may have been doing this before sailors sailed, it isn't much of a stretch to imagine that sailors could independently develop similar ideas due to the nature of the work (i.e., 'if we don't all pull together, that sheet ain't going nowhere, so everyone pull on my mark and signal that you're doing it by responding with a yell'). From there, it's even less of a stretch to imagine the sailors, once presented with a steady beat, would start using favorite songs from home to time the work with, and then from there start developing songs of their own. Art finds the strangest beds to grow from...

In all this, it's entirely reasonable to assume that EVERY nation that sailors came in contact with would add to the blend. After all, it was a common practice to bolster diminishing crews by taking (hopefully) willing natives to sea as pilots, and some would stay on as full time sailors... Some ships would even man whole crews of 'natives', as noted by Dana in 'Two Years Before the Mast'. There, in California, he records a ship entirely manned by native "Kanakas" (Hawaiians).

Plus, as sailors signed on to different routes, their experiences would go with them... so on an Atlantic trade vessel, you might wind up with a Pacific South Seas sailor sharing the songs and shanties he'd learned on his previous voyages... and vice versa. That's part of what makes tracing where shanty influences definitively came from so difficult.

Anyway, that's my take on it. Do with it as you will...


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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: radriano
Date: 14 May 01 - 04:41 PM

Good thread and I agree that the BS should be removed from the title.

Although I've been singing shanties and sea music for quite a while now I must admit to a very meager knowledge of their history.

Is the call and response form exclusively African? Or did the industrial revolution erase any form of this type in white cultures? I admit to not being much of a historian either so I may be off the mark. Where did the call and response used in training by the Marines come from originally?

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: GUEST,Albamist
Date: 14 May 01 - 04:20 PM

Lady Penelope, you took the words right out of my mouth (meatloaf I believe) Have you ever noticed the distinct similarity between the gaelic tweeding songs and native American chants? Some of them are almost interchangeable

In a similar vein to Charlie Noble, I once worked in the copper mines in Zambia, the work crew were moving a heavy piece of equipment into place underground and were chanting as they worked. Thinking I was lucky to be hearing some ancient tribal chant I asked the elder mechanic about the meaning of the words. He replied, "Young Frank there(the junior mechanic) has just bought himself a motorcycle and he looks like a pea on top of a mountain, so we are chanting oh he who looks like a pea on a mountain-------Push" Disappointed or what?


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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: lady penelope
Date: 14 May 01 - 03:13 PM

I've got to disagree with the Cranky Yankee, there have been work songs in just about every culture in the world. And as for the Irish only singing as a form of art???? There are plenty of recorded "tweeding" songs from the west coast of scotland that the women sang as they cured the tweed. It took as many women as were available to work the tweed and they had to work in unison, hence the songs. If you look at the Norse, I'm sure you'll be able to find Viking work songs, 'cos that's all a shanty is.

TTFN M'Lady P.

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: Charley Noble
Date: 14 May 01 - 02:46 PM

I'm sure CY is correct in given Aficans credit for playing a major role in the development of shanties, chanties, or whatever they're called, although I'm sure that work chants were also alive and well in England, France, Scandinavia on land and on the sea. I believe Stan Hugil gives Africans in the Caribbean and Southeastern US full credit for many fine shanties – references to the Mobile Bay shanty factory.

As an aside I remember waking up one morning in rural Ethiopia (the Gurage Agar) to the sound of a "shanty"; the neighbors were transplanting big banana-like plants (Ensete), and heaving 'em up with a modal chant quite like "Blood Red Roses." When I asked my students what the words meant, they were all embarrassed; they claimed "They're not singing the right words; what they're singing is very rude!" Well, I've got it all on tape and some day Roll & Go will sing homage to the great Thunder God "Boja" and whatever he was doing with that lovely young lady...

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
Date: 14 May 01 - 02:44 PM

Thanks for your input Naemanson. It's my understanding, though that Chanteys (or shanties) were only used on "English Speaking" vessels and while there are now foreign language translations, they've never been used functionally except on our ships and that is the reason for the huge fleets of merchant ships that were way out of proportion to our population.

As for Mr Hughill's statement about Elizabethan sailors singin a songs about their lives, SO DID EVERYBODY ELSE, IN EVERY LANGUAGE AND ABOUT EVERY OCCUPATION.

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: Naemanson
Date: 14 May 01 - 02:21 PM

Actually I agree with Cranky Yankee about the probable origin of the shanty being African. I have seen plenty of examples of African laborers working and singing. Be that as it may, it was then taken on board by sailors of many nations and modified to fit the language and customs of those sailors.

One additional source of African sailors was slavery. Sometimes a slave was sold or even rented to a ship captain. For some it became the path to freedom.

Anyway, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the experts were guilty of a little racial prejudice in their research and glossed over the African origin of the custom of using songs with labor.

I think Hugill mentions a work song dating from Elizabethan England. Any more info on that?

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: Don Firth
Date: 14 May 01 - 02:12 PM

(Actually, that's spelled "brouhaha")

Don Firth (ducking and covering)

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
Date: 14 May 01 - 02:07 PM

MICCA: You want to start a Brew-ha-ha about how something is SPELLED?????

stand up straight
look intelligent
Don't drag your knuckles

Ian, O.K. I see the smiley face.

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: Mrrzy
Date: 14 May 01 - 01:59 PM

Interesting, very interesting!

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
Date: 14 May 01 - 01:34 PM

Ian C. Frederick Pease Harlowe's book "Chanteying Aboard American Ships" which is an excellent read, also gives some credit to African Chanteymen, stating at one point that the two best chanteymen in his experience were both Black.

I submitted the above when I did because AOL has a nasty habit of kicking me out before I'm finished. I have one more thing to add.

Given what is stated in the first part of this thread, do any of you, upon reflection, think that with all those African Sailors around (Fact) a "British Islander" came up with the idea of using music as a coordinating tool?

None of the "experts" (except harlowe) even considered the notion that African's had at least some part in the early development of real sea chanteys.

SO MUCH FOR EXPERTS who write books. Never completely accept what any "Expert" tells you, (that includes me, not that I'm Expert, only somewhat profficient) THINK FOR YOURSELVES, QUESTION THE "EXPERTS">.

IanC. Harlowe spent most of his life as a sailor on large square rigged merchant ships in the 19th century. The guy who wrote the book you quote must have been somewhat concerned about his own manhood to have written such a piece of claptrap. I quit being concerned about such things somewhere around 1969. Look in the P.M.'s for how come.

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: Micca
Date: 14 May 01 - 01:24 PM

IanC, in support of your statement as I have said before on here, Chantey is a Glaswegian slang word for a pisspot or Gezunder (it Gezunder the bed!)in all other places Ive seen it in use in the British Merchant navy in the 60s it was ALWAYS spelt Shanty...

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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: Wolfgang
Date: 14 May 01 - 01:18 PM

Good thread, my only tiny objection: Please don't start a thread about music with BS. On busy days I filter BS threads away and I'd hate to miss such a thread. I hope Joe (clone) will correct that.


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Subject: RE: BS: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: IanC
Date: 14 May 01 - 01:07 PM

Hey, Cranky

Just to wind you up, here's another fact.

Wall, who's excellent book I'vbe got a 1st edition of, claims that the use of the spelling Chanty or Chantey is effete, not being historically accurate.

He is the only person sailing before 1872 (since when he claims there were no decent shanties sung) who appears to have ever published anything about shanties and claims he never ever heard them called, described as or spelt with a "C"

Any feelings?


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Subject: The origin of Sea Chanteys
Date: 14 May 01 - 01:01 PM

First off, let me offer some historically factual statements.
In the early 18th century, merchant ships flying the British Flag, which, of course, included the colonies, began hiring sailors from the West Coast of Africa. The reason for this being that they were not Crown Subjects and therefore not elligible for impressment into the Royal Navy.

It was immediately apparent that they were excellent sailors, dependable, resourceful and hard working. So, Thousands and thousands of Africans were eventually signed on to these merchant ships.

fact #2
Africans have a centuries old tradition of coordinating the efforts of more than one person, by singing. In the movie "Mogambo" starring Clark Gable, which was shot on location, there is a scene where several Africans are hauling a Rhinocerous out of a pit while singing a long drag chantey. In "Trader Horn", also shot on location, the Watusi People are portrayed by real Watusi, there are other examples, also they are paddling a boat while singing a chantey. Michael Caine's "Zulu" < also shot on location, the "Zulu" are portrayed by real Zulu. The move troop formations around, issue and acknowledge orders by singing.

In the 19th century, there were so many African Sailors employed on British and American ships that the State of South Carolina perceived them as a threat to "Domestic Tranquility" in the port of Charleston that they enacted the infamous "South Carolina Negro Seamen "act which stated that any Negro crewmen on ships entering Charleston Harbor had to be locked up in the city jail until their ship left port, and the cost of their upkeep was the responsibility of the ship's Captain. If the captain could not pay the required sum of money, his sailors would be sold into slavery to satisfy this debt.
This almost caused another war with the Mother Country when an English ship lost it's entire crew in this manner.

fact #3
Oliver Hazard Perry proved to the world that "Brittania did NOT rule the waves of lake Erie" with a force from my hometown, Newport, Rhode Island, consisting of (most historians agree)50% free African American Sailors.

The above facts are offered to show that there were a LOT of African and Afro American sailors on English speaking merchant ships. Now here comes my theory, The African sailors brought the tradition of singing to coordinate work aboard with them./ This quickly caught on when the other sailors saw how much smoother and easier the work became. Sthe ship owners, found that with this practice they could operate their ships with fewer crewmen and did so, thereby enabling them to cut costs (Crew requirements being the larges operating expense) and undercut the rates of every other country's ships. The result being that we, US and British, eventually had huge fleets of sailing merchant ships, their numbers being way out of proportion to our population.

The "call-response" form of sea chanteys, is exclusively African. There are no examples of this in any other English Language folk music. Irish people are extremely prolific and diverse in their composing folk songs. But, to them the music is an added bit of beauty to a poem. The tune makes the poem easier to recite. It also can add "dramatic " effect to the poetry. Here's one more bit of corellation. In the TV Movie "Mandella" , at the end of the movie, some zulus are singing a song with African words that is identical to "Little Sally Racket" and THE CAPE COD CHANTEY (ALSO KNOWN AS SOUTH AUSTRALIA) IS IDENTICAL IN FORM TO THE BANANA BOAT SONG. "Day Oh, Day oh" is exdactly the same melody as "Heave away me bully bully boys" (or "heave away you ruling king")

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