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June 9, 2010

Caribbean shanty singers

South Coast Today (MA):

New Bedford is a long way from the village of Barrouallie on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. But both places share a heritage in whaling as well as songs of the sea. And a group of four retired Caribbean whalers arrived this week for a series of concerts beginning with an AHA! performance at 7:15 tonight at the National Park Visitor Center.

The singers all come from Barrouallie (pronounced BEHR-a-lee), a fishing community of about 5,500 where whalers mostly hunted small pilot whales commercially until the early 1970s. They also hunted larger quarry, including killer whales and sperm whales.

This was shore-based (or longshore) whaling as opposed to the deep sea practices used by whalers in New Bedford and other whale oil centers. This difference is also reflected in the content of the "shanties" the Barrouallie Whalers sing, which are distinct from deepwater sea chanteys. Several of the songs, however, based on old classic sailor songs like "Blow the Man Down" and "Shenandoah," may be familiar to listeners.

The songs are sung a capella and evolved from the tradition of announcing a successful catch as the boats approached the village. "As a call-and-response genre, shanty performance prescribed roles of the shantyman (soloist) and the responding chorus, directed to audiences including the boat crew, other whalers and the shore community," according to a paper presented at a symposium last year at the Mystic Seaport Museum.

"These occupational shanties also served other communicative and social functions within the whaling community, often in the form of satire."

Lanier says audiences here are in for a treat. The men's Caribbean creole English may be somewhat difficult to understand, but their enthusiasm is infectious. The quartet's performance repertoire includes other local music, such as "ring play" songs, a lively entertainment form known throughout the Caribbean.

The Whalers will appear tonight with the New Bedford Harbor Sea Chantey Chorus, whose members have been practicing the refrains of three of the Barrouallie shanties. While the shore whaling songs may be slightly different from deep-sea chanteys the chorus normally sings, one of the shanties is similar to a longtime chorus favorite, "Good Bye Fare-Ye-Well," which the Caribbean visitors sing by placing different emphasis on some words. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at June 9, 2010 10:07 PM


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