Chants de Marins: Singing the Sailors Song in Bretagne

Chants de Marins: Singing the Sailors Song in Bretagne

Chants de Marins: Singing the Sailors Song in Bretagne

by August 26, 2017

Listen to the sounds of shipwrecks and the lilting tune of traditional music in the north-west of France. Chants de Marins is an old style of music that brings the magic of the past back to life.

There is something evocative and Celtic about the traditional music in Bretagne, the western province of France. One particular genre, Chants de Marins, has its roots in a Pagan sound and calls the sound of oceans and ancient shipwrecks to life.

Sung by the Sailors

Originally these songs were chanted by sailors at sea. Chants de Marins translates into “sailors at sea”, which is where this music is at home. Hearing the music now still brings back lost memories of sea life. The genre is particularly prominent in the coastal regions when sailing would have been part of their everyday life, as many lived off the fish in the sea.

The songs have an important function in the sailors’ lives, as it encouraged them to work in teams and synchronicity with the rhythm. Essentially, the chants are working songs.


Singing for Sailing

In many countries across the world, it was found that people would sing for synchronicity on the ships. The songs were often merry and a pleasure to hear. Since the practice of fishing has become more mechanised, it has become less about the people and the songs.  The songs of sailors remain alive in the regions of maritime tradition. They are a means of recognition of identity.

The chant of the sailors in Bretagne are particularly jolly. Now you mostly hear the sailor’s song sung at festivals in the region, usually accompanied by the accordion or the violin. The melody is catchy and the lyrics easy to memorise. Voice is the essential instrument, although many of the singers having little or no voice training.