Folk  •  Traditional Folk

Sea Shanties

Sea shanties (or chanteys) are sailors' work songs, which were originally designed to help synchronize tasks aboard ship. An experienced listener can generally tell what job was originally performed to the rhythm of a tune; sail-hauling shanties have a different beat than pumping shanties, rowing shanties, and capstan or windlass shanties. What many shanties have in common is call-and-response vocals and a yelp or shout at the end of each chorus. (The latter was a signal to pull on a rope or put extra effort into raising an anchor.) The subjects of shanties vary widely, from tales of the sea and reminiscences of ladies left behind to nonsensical rhymes and ribald boasting. Though English-language shanties are perhaps best known there are popular shanties in many languages, and the largest regularly held shanty festival is staged annually in Poland. In recent years folk artists have created many original tunes in the style of sea shanties, and many bands have added a few shanties to their repertoire to add color to their set. Note: There is some disagreement about the reason for the name of the style. Some experts refer to the chanted quality of the vocals, while others point to the fact that fishermen traditionally lived in shacks called shantys. Nobody is ever likely to know which is true, or if there is some other reason altogether.