Shanties, laments, sacred songs

From Sea Shanties (labour songs or drinking songs) to laments, to sacred songs intended to bring success in fishing or protection from the elements, music and song work in ancient partnership with our relationship to the sea.

Asa nisi masa from The 5th Season by Remus Ockels on the Humanworkshop label (April 2006. Free Music Archive, 05:06, Genre experimental, Flamenco)
Asa nisi masa by Remus is licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Lost at sea (a Brilana remix) by The Apartment on the Comfort Stand label (September 2004. Free Music Archive, 04:35, Genre experimental)

Lost at Sea (a Brilana remix) by The Apartment is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial License.

Great Open Sea from netBloc 44: Break from the System that Gotcha. Track 12 by Wellington Sea Shanty Society. (August 2013. Free Music Archive, 02:55, Genre Folk)


The Inuit, Inuit art and song

When the sea freezes, hunters travel long distances and camp for days where the fishing is good. Creatures such as Walrus and seal are used in their entirety: for food, for their skins, sinews and bones, and for their oil. To hunt noisily or celebrate a catch is regarded as disrespectful and shameful behaviour. Animal bones, teeth and tusks are used to contrast against green-veined marble or soapstone. According to an exhibition catalogue from the mid 1980’s  Paul Duval suggests:

“The Eskimos of Canada have created compelling sculptures for more than 2,000 years. At first, in the Dorset and Thule cultures that flourished respectively from 800 BC to 1400 AD and 1000 AD to 1700 AD, Eskimo carvings were miniature in size and made mostly from ivory and antler.”

Duval, P. (ND). The Eskimo Art Collection of the Toronto Dominion Bank

Duval also states that the larger carvings did not develop until after the visit in 1948 of Canadian artist, James Houston. However, the implication that white influences inspired significant changes in style may be contested in the 21st century, when there has been a reconsideration of Indigenous histories, and a critical review of publications whose perspectives were framed in terms of colonial perspectives.

Inuit seal hunter with snowmobile

Seal hunter by Ansgar Walk, 1999

Animals and hunting stories feature in the stories, myths and legends of all Indigenous peoples, and traditional skills in creating animal carvings and paintings, or incised patterns in fur blankets, bone, wood or leather continue  – but artists have taken a contemporary perspective on subject matter and the use of tools.

The Toronto Dominion Bank (Canada) holds one of the world’s greatest collections of traditional and contemporary Inuit art. Contemporary sculptures are as likely to include figures wearing earphones and MP3 players (as in the work by Pitseolak Qimirpik) as they are to show hunting scenes. These sculptures gently play with urban images of ‘the wild north’ and romantic ideas of the Inuit way of life.

Inuit Throat Singing

Throat singing (Smithsonian Folkways, 2010 – YouTube – not Creative Commons Licensed) allows a single singer to create ‘more than one voice’ through breath control. This style of singing is well known in Mongolian and Tuvalan culture, but it is tradition of the Inuit people and particularly for women: here Kathy Keknek and Janet Aglukkaq present their application for the 2008 Winter games (YouTube Video  Dec 13, 2007 – YouTube – not Creative Commons Licensed).

Activity: Collect examples of Throat Singing from around the world: or create your own recording and share it here as a Creative Commons CCBY SA downloadable file.Creative commons attribution share alike


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