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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Gibb Sahib Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen (14) Chantwell: Southern Antillean Chantymen 21 Aug 17


I imagine some people familiar with Trini music may have something to add here.

I'm not coming into this thread having done much text research, so I'm interested in what people's experiences may have been in relation to this topic: "chantwell."

"Chantwell" is the term given to the song leader in call-and-response traditions of the southern Lesser Antilles -- or so I've extrapolated! It is functionally equivalent to the term "chantyman," which was used for the caller of chanties (generally, work-songs). Because the musical form of antiphonal chanties was the same as the form of other (non-work) genres in the Afro-Caribbean culture, it makes sense that one might use "chantwell" or "chantyman" across the board to refer to lead singers.

Two points to ground the discussion:

1) I believe the term "chanty" comes from "chantyman." Discussants from the time when these terms were emerging (at least in written discourse, in Anglophone shipping context) placed a distinct emphasis on the term for the song leader, i.e. chantyman, whereas the need for a special term for song-items was less. Now, where the term "chantyman" comes from is another matter—but one that I think "chantwell" might shed some light on.

2) I understand, from interviews with men on the island of Carriacou (a territory of Grenada), that they call the lead singer of chanties and of other call-and-response songs the chantwell. They pronounced it with the "ch" as in French. These men are descendants of chanty singers that A. Lomax recorded on the island in the 1960s.

I am *vaguely* aware, through secondary sources, that the song leader in cariso, i.e. ~the prototype of calypso of Trinidad, is also called chantwell. Carriacou, it can be noted, is somewhat in the cultural orbit of Trinidad, though it's not obvious what direction everything flowed. Carriacou's old Creole language is French based, though the mainstream language now is English. The island's chanties are in Creole English, while other songs (e.g. cantique) are in Creole French and still others (Big Drum) are in African languages. In discussion with one man (whom I'll call SB) remembering the old songs, the terms chants, chant, chanté, shanties, and chantwell were all mixed up in a discourse that refereed to French and English creole songs.

It would be good to know more about how "chantwell" is used in Trinidad (and how it is pronounced?) and if it is used elsewhere. Previously I had thought that "chantyman" originated in a Creole French environment of some sort (French as spoken by people of African descent in the Americas) but was thinking of the French legacy areas of the Southern U.S. (New Orleans, Mobile) as the site of development. But now I wonder if it can be ascribed to other areas of French-English creole mixture.


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