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TikTok users revive a centuries-old genre with sea shanty videos

DTH Photo Illustration. A recent viral trend on tik tok has seen users using the duet feature to perform sea shanties together.

TikTok users may never find themselves sailing the high seas on a merchant ship, but they’ve found ways to simulate the adventure without any epic duels inside their own homes.

By using the duet feature on the app, singers all over the world are writing, sharing and performing sea shanties. The trend was brought to the surface with a cover of “Soon May The Wellerman Come,” – more commonly known as “Wellerman” – performed by user @nathanevanss. Over the course of the last few weeks, the video amassed over seven million views as thousands of users added even more harmonies and instruments to complete the sound. 

First-year vocal performance student Carrina Macaluso was initially introduced to sea shanties when her choir group sang one when she was younger. She has loved working with shanties ever since.

“I think that it's really wonderful that they're coming back, because it's just something that everyone can be included in, no matter your musical knowledge,” Macaluso said. “Sea shanties are the epitome of musical vibing, because you don't have to know what you're doing and you can just sing any note. It doesn't matter if it's right or wrong.”

Rising junior Maggie Helmke was also a fan of the genre long before shanties became a trend. She said listening to shanties brought her back to long road trips to Canada with her family, when her father played them in the car. 

She also believes the message behind the songs makes the tunes even catchier.

“Behind every sea shanty there's a story,” Helmke said. “A lot of modern songs don't have a strong storyline behind them, but every sea shanty has a story and some sort of motivational aspect or a message of camaraderie since many of them were, quite literally, used on the sea.”

First-year dramatic arts student Thompson Sewell was introduced to the genre by the video game "Assassin’s Creed." Since he first learned about them, he has made it a personal mission to learn the harmonies of more sea shanties to bond with friends.

“One time I was at lock-in with some of my friends at my church and we were eating chicken wings and just having a ball,” Sewell said. “I stood on the table and started leading them in a sea shanty, and it was a magical experience.”

Many also noted that the simplicity of sea shanties makes them even more compelling. 

“Typically, they're done in a meter with a very strong beat,” Macaluso said. “They were written to keep time while you were doing a job so you could hoist something on the ship while you were doing it. And then they have the simple melodies that always come back to a musical tonic, which is essentially just a home base.”

TikTok users have also taken to playing around with the simple melodies – transforming popular songs into a sea shanty style.

Though TikTok has given “Wellerman” some fame, there are plenty of other sea shanties to enjoy. Helmke suggests listening to anything by Stan Rogers or Great Big Sea, two popular sea shanty performers.

In the end, sea shanties are back – not because people are voyaging across the ocean – but as a fun and trendy way for people to come together.

“It feels powerful and uniting to sing sea shanties with others and to just be as loud as you can, without holding anything back,” Sewell said.


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