Archives for category: Chant

“¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”  This chant was a prominent feature of support in Salvador Allende’s Chilean election campaign leading to his democratic election in 1970.  In 1973, of course, the elected government was overthrown in a CIA backed coup, installing the dictator Pinochet.   In the same year, the chant became a popular song that has been employed in many popular struggles up to the present.  It recurs in many languages.

However I want to point to the rhythmic structure of the chant.  In its basic form, this has a two beat structure with accents on beats 1 and 3 of the first bar, and 1, 2 and 3 of the second.  This pattern is almost certainly much older than the popular Chilean chant, and seems to be globally prevalent.  Examples after the fold, and please add your examples in the comments!

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And now back to our regular programming . . .

Speaking, declaiming, shouting, and singing together allows the expression of group feelings: Feelings that are often simple, usually strong, sometimes stupid, but always rooted in the collective identity that so finds expression.  This underlies the use of collective speaking in oaths and ceremonies, rituals and rites, because we take the collective voice very seriously.

How horrible then to find this ability misused by corporations, as employees are required to participate in a company-sponsored chant.   Walmart seem to be particularly enthused by this form of ritual humiliation of their employees as they get them to chant “Who’s number 1? . . . The customer!  What do we want to be? . . . Accident free!!”  I’m sure other corporations do this too without a thought.

Videos of this practice abound.  Here’s just one sad sample:

Feel free to provide illustrations by other corporations in the comments.

Ibrahim Quashoush (or Kashoush) (w) was a fireman in the Syrian city of Homs.  He was also an influential musician, and in 2010/2011 he became widely known for leading a lively chant against the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad.  A video of this chant is available here, filmed in Hama on 27 June, 2011.  It is a vibrant performance that features short verses and a collective chorus.

Read on for more, but be warned, this is not a happy story.

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Chanting seems to be a very effective means of embodying and sustaining group identity.  Many chants are little more than labels the group chooses to apply to itself.  The very common and multi-purpose chant of “U. S. A.” is a good example.

So the odd case of the Tottenham Hotspur chant merits attention.  The London football club has traditionally had strong ties to the local Jewish community.   Supporters refer to themselves as the “Yid Army”, and incorporate this term in many of their chants.  Cries of anti-semitism (“yid” is widely perceived as a pejorative term for jews) seem a little odd in this instance, as the supporters adopted the term themselves.   David Cameron has seen fit to opine that the use of  chants including the term “yid” should be tolerated, but there has been strong opposition from other quarters, and recently, occasional arrests for such chanting.

To add to the problem, opposition fans have taken to hissing loudly during matches, in apparent reference to the gas chambers of the holocaust.

A lighter view of the chant is provided in this video:

There is no current support for chant, or joint speaking, as a form of expression in the digital world.  In theory, it would not be too difficult to facilitate the creation, sharing, and enjoyment of joint speaking within a digital framework, say as part of a digital petition – where the recipient must hear the collective voice as well as receive the signatures – or as something to be passed around and added to for fun, say by football fans or devotees of this or that sect.

One example of what might be in store comes from Hans Zimmer, who did the score for a recent Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.  The movie memorably features scenes in which a large group of people chant “He rises” in a North African language. Is it Moroccan Arabic?  Berber?  Zimmer is coy on the issue.  The words are “deshi basara”.  Before the film’s release, Zimmer solicited and got recordings of thousands of fans, each on their own, chanting these words, and he married them together into a thoroughly convincing large-crowd chant that plays at an emotionally charged moment.  Fans were thus part of the chant they heard on the film’s release.

Zimmer discusses the chant here. You can hear the chant from about the 50 second mark in this trailer:

The Vedas are a group of Sanskrit texts revered in Hinduism, and going back some 3,500 years.  They represent possibly the oldest continuous textual tradition in the world.  Originating before the advent of writing, they were preserved, and indeed still are preserved, through a heavily formalized system of chanting.  There are several methods of chanting, but each serves to incorporate an error checking mechanism, by separating sound and sense.  For example, a sequence of words, ABCDE… will be chanted, in one pattern, as ABBAAB, BCCBBC, CDDCCD, etc.  Other patterns are more complex, but they all involve reversing word order, within sequences in which both forward and backward orders occur, thereby emphasising the sounds themselves.  Any error introduced by a novice will stand out like a sore thumb, as a sense-based slip will violate the sound pattern, and a sound-based slippage will destroy the sense.  Doing this collectively makes the whole process very robust indeed. To this date, the chanted version of the texts is considered authoritative.

The Wikipedia article on Vedic chant is quite thorough. YouTube has many examples for your listening pleasure.

In 2003, UNESCO proclaimed the tradition of Vedic chant a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

A chant has emerged in major league soccer in the US.  The pithy phrase “You Suck, Asshole!” is recited, usually once only, and precisely then when the goalkeeper of the opposing team kicks the ball out as a goal kick.  Examples are easy to find.  In this example, you can also see that the chant is accompanied by hand signs that bear striking resemblance to those of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

I know of no other example of a chant that is timed like this with respect to a discrete event, and that happens once only.  Food for thought.

Addendum: During the world cup, it became clear that this practice transcends language.  The term “puto” is used by many Spanish speaking supporters in exactly the same situation, called once only, when the goalkeeper kicks the ball out.

There is much furore about a freshman chant used in an event during Saint Mary’s University Orientation Week in Halifax.  A similar chant has surfaced at the Sauder School of Business in the University of British Columbia.

The Sauder chanting seems to have taken place on a bus of students returning to campus from a hotel party (source).

The St Mary’s chant was more public and video of it is freely available.

The text of the St Mary’s chant is widely reported to be “Y is for your sister, O is for ‘oh so tight,’ U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for grab that ass – Saint Mary’s boys we like them young.”, although a reader of the  Toronto Star claims that the N-line is clearly (sic) “N is for no regrets”.  I personally hear “N is for no respect”, but I am uncertain.

The Sauder chant is reported to be similar, with the difference that “G is for go-to-jail”.

There have been resignations and uproar, of course.

Texts used in chants are often very simple.  Think of the popular use of the call “U. S. A.” at American sporting and political events.  Longer texts are associated with formal rituals, such as prayers.  Where these are not memorized and over-practiced, chanting is usually done in call-and-response format, as seen, for example in the people’s microphone during the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011  (about which more in a later post).  In the documentation we have of this chant, all participants know the text (no call and response) so we may take it that this particular chant has a degree of institutional embedding, and that this has happened often in the past.  Not pretty, but chanting is not always pretty.