In the last week of 2020, Nathan Evans, a 26-year-old Scottish postman and ambitious musician, shared a video of himself on TikTok, singing a sea freak called “Wellerman Coming Soon.” He didn’t expect anything to happen, but the app has a way of turning dusty esoterics into viral gold.
In fact, in the last two weeks, his old-fashioned video has been shared and released in a duet thousands of times: by professional vocalists and instrumentalists, marine enthusiasts, electronic beatmakers, memers, Kermit the Frog doll and more.
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What is a sea shunt?
One of the original goals of maritime blackmail was to create a sense of community and shared purpose. On merchant sea-going vessels in the 1700s and 1800s, blackmail would lead sailors to song while they worked, distracting them from their work, enlivening their tasks and creating rhythm.
“Different types of work on board and housework would have different privileges,” said Gary Smith, a professor of Irish cultural history at the University of Liverpool, John Moores and author of “Sea Song: Shanties and Ballads on the High Seas.” ”
According to Mr. Smith’s research, chances have evolved to match and accelerate certain tasks. “If you pull a sail, for example, the shanty was designed to achieve that physical effort,” he said. “Everyone would pull at the same time,” he added, oriented to the rhythm of the song.
The earliest maritime blackmail could be as old as seafaring itself. They take advantage of the impulse to share stories of oral literature, which is even older.
Singing is fun and it lifted the spirits of sailors, Mr Smith said. The songs also offer a common language for multinational crews.
“This community aesthetic really goes back to very ancient times,” Mr Smith said. “When we sit around the campfire, we talk about hunting. We achieve identity through community, through the basic rhythm of the drum. “In these ancient traditions of storytelling, everyone knew the story and played a role in its storytelling.
Other working songs work with the same shared impulse to tell stories. This is especially evident in the tradition of calling and responding to African-American folk songs and spirits, which are based on the practices of democratic participation in public life in sub-Saharan Africa.
For maritime blackmail, the passage of time has led to some revision. In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, scientists collecting sea urchins cleaned up texts, many of which were quite hoarse, Mr Smith said. These collectors bouldering the songs, replacing “whores” with “fair girls,” removing rude language and belittling drunken nights in the pub.
In the versions that remained most true to the life and language of the sailors, these ballads focused on what Mr. Smith called the “basic coordinates of the gloomy imagination”: arriving at the port and returning to the sea. Being in the vast blue, they discovered a romanticized life of work and violence. Back on land, their yarns play pimps, prostitutes and drunken sailors, losing their salaries at the bar and in back games.
About this Shanti
The recently popularized “Wellerman May Come Soon” – which the Longest Johns group will cover in 2018 – leaves such naughty stories in favor of an adventure like “Moby-Dick”. His subject was real: the Weller brothers’ whaling company had an outpost in Otago, New Zealand. The lyrics of the song include sailors who harpoon a whale and put it on a butcher’s ship.
“This well may have been indiscriminate,” or a song people sang while slaughtering a whale, said Michael P. Dyer, a marine curator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts.
This particular task was messy; collecting parts of whales – oil for lighting lamps and use in cosmetics, bale for whale corsets, tongue for food – was hard work. The “language” mentioned in the texts refers to the removal of the language, the most edible part of the whale, according to Mr Dyer.
As for the line “bring us sugar, tea and rum”, some believe that it may refer to the participation of whaling in the slave triangle trade in the Atlantic. (Accordingly, various commentators have suggested that the meme has lost its charm.) Others believe that the phrase refers to another ship coming to supply whalers on their long hunt.
“Wellerman is not really lucky,” said David Coffin, a folk musician and music educator in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a whaling song with the rhythm of luck, he said, but its purpose is a ballad – to tell a story, not to help sailors keep their time.
In any case, the form, Mr Smith said, is malleable, which could explain the thousands of riffs, duets and adaptations that have spread online. Some people have even begun to cover popular songs – such as “All Star” on Smash Mouth – in sea luck.
“It’s not the beauty of the song that attracts people,” Mr. Coffin said. “It’s the energy.”
“This is one of the things I love about maritime blackmail,” he added. “Accessibility. You don’t have to be a trained singer to sing on it. You don’t have to sing beautifully. “