Amid the worldwide media protection of the pandemic and Donald Trump’s closing days as US president, an sudden music style went viral on TikTok: conventional sea shanties, spurring what has turn out to be often known as the “ShantyTok” phenomenon.
International curiosity in ShantyTok started when a postman referred to as Nathan Evans, who lives close to Glasgow in Scotland, posted a video on TikTok of him singing “Quickly Could The Wellerman Come”, a Nineteenth-century shanty sung by sailors crewing ships owned the Weller brothers, founders of a whaling station in New Zealand. These ships introduced provides to the Weller’s whaling station at Otakou (Otago) on New Zealand’s South Island.
Evans, who has turn out to be one thing of a media star on the again of his viral video, has gone some method to explaining this lockdown phenomenon. He instructed the New York Occasions: “If it wasn’t for TikTok, I might be so bored and claustrophobic” – a situation which can even have been skilled by the whalers.
These seafaring hunters would go to sea for lengthy stretches whereas looking for the world’s largest mammal. Evans’ efficiency has an genuine sense of stoic forbearance about it that actually appears to have struck a chord with technology COVID, who, just like the whalers, are equally marking time.
TikTok permits customers so as to add their very own elements to beforehand posted materials and so a number of singers, usually sporting splendid beards, have layered harmonies, including depth to Evans’ rousing efficiency, making a meme within the course of. There’s additionally a people fiddler who provides a reel-type countermelody, a techno remix, a faux pirate who provides his personal commentary, a bodhran accompaniment by a girl in her kitchen together with her son dancing a techno-jig behind her, pizza faces singing the varied elements, and lots of extra.
Is Wellerman even shanty in any respect?
The success of Wellerman hasn’t come with out its controversies. David Coffin, a people musician and music educator from Cambridge, Massachusetts, questions whether or not the tune even qualifies as a shanty. “It’s a whaling tune with the beat of a shanty,” he knowledgeable the New York Occasions.
Shanties present the clear affect of the African-American custom of work-songs. Enslaved individuals engaged on southern plantations would replicate African traditions of singing songs to accompany their work. This apply was additionally adopted by service provider sailors when performing particular duties on crusing vessels, similar to pulling ropes and hoisting anchors. These sea shanties have a robust rhythmic circulation and a call-and-response construction, with the decision being sung by the “shantyman”, a lead sailor who would cue up every process with a selected tune.
Whaling songs, then again, appear to have emerged out of the shanty custom with the addition of a folk-ballad narrative construction. Wellerman shares many traits of the shanty: its call-and-response type, robust pulse and a melodic construction that rises and falls, relatively like a wave. Nevertheless, the tune additionally has six verses that inform the story of a 40-day whaling expedition by a ship named the Billy of Tea and its crew’s struggles to land a very fractious whale.
There’s an innocence and integrity about Nathan Evans’ efficiency and a lot of the responses to it. However there’s darkness embedded within the tune. The refrain lyric begins: “Quickly could the Wellerman come, To convey us sugar and tea and rum.” These had been merchandise that had been introduced again from what was often known as “The triangular commerce”, with enslaved Africans having been offered to work on plantations in North America and the Caribbean and the commodities being introduced again on the return leg.
There was some debate on social media in regards to the “problematic” nature of those references. However it’s obvious from an evaluation of the lyrics that the tune is neither a post-colonial kind of critique nor an embrace of the exploitation of indigenous peoples or the slave commerce. It may be seen as a real cultural expression by exploited staff for whom “sugar and tea and rum” supplied a much-needed respite from the drudgery and toil of their every day lives.
In a world riven by competing ideologies, drowning in faux information and with many individuals’s lives on maintain due to COVID, it isn’t shocking that becoming a member of a web based group to harmonise a melody and lyric that reaches again to an easier if extra brutal previous, has many points of interest. Understanding the context behind these songs allows us to maneuver past the visceral pleasures of communal efficiency and in the direction of a extra nuanced view of the world, encouraging us to think about what has modified for the reason that days of the Wellerman.
Adrian York is affiliated with The Labour Social gathering.