The folk songs taking TikTok by storm

ShantyTok: ” What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” is a popular sea shanty with over 20 verses.

Should we sing more? Traditional sea shanties have gone viral after a Scottish postman performed one on TikTok. Fans say that making music brings people together in difficult times.

What’s happening

In December, Nathan Evans uploaded a video to his TikTok. He sang a short folk song. He didn’t have a musical instrument, so he made a drum from a box and played along.

Soon, over a million people had seen it. Now, #seashanty has been used 1.6 billion times. And Nathan has signed a record deal.

Find out more

Sea shanties are old songs traditionally sung by sailors, fishermen and whalers at sea.

They were designed to be sung together while working on ships – the song would keep everyone in time while they were pulling ropes or raising sails.

Shanties are call and response songs, where a leader starts the song and everyone else sings the chorus.

TikTok users have followed this tradition by singing the chorus using the app’s duet function.

Nathan’s video has now been seen more than four billion times. He thinks the songs are important at the moment, with people around the world worried about Covid-19 and stuck at home.

“Sea shanties bring everybody together”, he explained, “It’s just pure enjoyment”.

Should we all sing more?

Some say…

Of course, we should! Humans have been singing together as long as we have existed on Earth. The tradition of the sea shanty means that anyone can join in. It helps make boring tasks more enjoyable, so it is perfect for life in lockdown. Not only that, music brings people together. People from all over the world have joined in with the craze.

Others think…

Maybe not. Singing is not for everyone. Some people prefer to listen to music rather than join in. Others like expressing themselves by making things, acting or writing. And there are other things that bring people together. Sport is a brilliant way to unite people from around the globe. Singing is not the only way.

You Decide

  1. Do you prefer listening to music or making it yourself?

Activities

  1. Write a song about what it is like living in lockdown using instruments made out of everyday items. For example, use an upturned bin as a drum or a bag of rice as a shaker.

Some People Say...

“Those who wish to sing always find a song”

Traditional Swedish saying

What do you think?

Word Watch

Nathan Evans
A postman who lives near Glasgow in Scotland. He has been singing on TikTok for a long time, but his songs have only just become popular.
Record deal
An agreement made with a recording company. Nathan has released a single of Wellerman, his most popular video.
Shanties
The word comes from the French word “chanter”, which means “to sing”.
Whalers
People who hunted whales. They travelled in ships known as whaling vessels. By the 1930s, whaling was so popular that more than 50,000 whales were killed each year. It is now illegal in many countries.
Call and response
Another example of a call and response shanty is “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” The chorus asks the question and each verse suggests an answer.
Duet
A duet is a piece with two performers. TikTok lets users duet with each other by adding their recordings onto old videos. Nathan’s Wellerman video has been dueted thousands of times.

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