What ist the difference between shanties and sailor songs?

Shanties are mostly songs for work, originally sung in the "shanties", the storehouses of the woodchoppers in the Canadian woods, later in the Antlantic harbors in the USA, where mostly Afro-Americans had to load the ships with cotton and other export goods. To cope better with the hard circumstances of their work, they sang, the rhythm of the songs matching the rhythm of the work they had to do.

The sailors, that were chartered to work on the sailing ships, adopted this art to sing while working and transmitted it to their work on sea.

However, many sailors didn’t know the English language and just repeated the lyrics the way they thought they understood them. This is how in many of our traditional shanties „English“ lyrics, which is known as „Pidgin-English“, came to be.

The man in charge, the “Shantyman”, mostly assumed the telling part of the song, while the crew was singing the refrain, be it while hoisting the sails or at the pumps. This way many shanties were about the hard work, often as accusation against their superiors, about the bad lodgings or the bad state of the ship in general and the barbarous conditions of work involved. But home sickness is also a part of the shanties.

Sailor songs on the other side are light music. The lyrics are written down and they are composed. They are mostly about the beauties of the seafaring, they glamorize the “romantic” job as sailor and the alluring charm of the countries far from home. Sailor songs were and are sung mostly at home or at pubs, whereas the contents of the songs are far from reality. However, they also belong to the repertoire of our choir.