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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: SOTW 2/24/12: Tri Martolod

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

stigandr5 - Posted - 02/21/2012:  09:43:21

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Please forgive my early posting. International travel for the next 5 days will keep me away from my computer.


“Tri Martolod”—Traditional Breton Folk Song

This song comes to us from the region of France known as Brittany, in the far northwest corner of the country. Brittany’s unique cultural and linguistic heritage makes it one of the more fascinating regions of France (in my humble opinion).

Brittany is known as one of the “Six Celtic Nations,” the others being Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man. The area’s Celtic roots are reflected strongly in the local music. Marching groups of bagpipers known as bagadoù employ Scottish highland pipes, bombardes (traditional double-reed woodwinds), and a drumline to whip up an incredible racket (for a fine example, click here). There’s also a plethora of airs, religious chants, and sea shanties. “Tri Martolod” is the quintessential Breton sea shanty.

Although versions of this popular song were around in the early half of the 20th century (Polig Montjarret), the song became a much wider success after its interpretation by noted Breton music revivalist Alan Stivell in the early 70s.

As with many sea shanties, this one has numerous variable sets of lyrics. Here’s the set that I used:


“Tri martolod yaouank... la la la...

Tri martolod yaouank i vonet da veajiñ (bis)

“E vonet da veajiñ, gê!

E vonet da veajiñ (bis)

“Gant 'n avel bet kaset... la la la...

Gant 'n avel bet kaset beteg an Douar Nevez (bis)

“Beteg an Douar Nevez, gê!

Beteg an Douar Nevez (bis)

“E-kichen mein ar veilh... la la la...

E-kichen mein ar veilh o deus mouilhet o eorioù (bis)

“O deus mouilhet o eorioù, gê !

O deus mouilhet o eorioù (bis)

“Hag e-barzh ar veilh-se... la la la...

Hag e-barzh ar veilh-se e oa ur servijourez (bis)

“Pelec'h hor graet konesañs, gê !

Pelec'h hor graet konesañs (bis)

“En Naoned er marc'had... la la la...

En Naoned er marc'had on-oa choajet ur walenn (bis)”


And here’s the English translation (same source):

“Three young sailors, tra la la…

Three young sailors went traveling

“Went traveling!

Went traveling!

“And the wind pushed them… la la la

The wind pushed them to Newfoundland

“All the way to Newfoundland!

All the way to Newfoundland

“Next to the windmill stone… la la la

Next to the windmill stone, they threw down the anchor

“They threw down the anchor!

They threw down the anchor!

“And in that windmill… la la la

And in that windmill was a servant girl

“Where have we met before?

Where have we met before?

“We met in Nantes at the market… la la la

In Nantes at the market, we chose a ring.”

For those who haven’t been paying attention, I’ve been devoting a lot of time and energy lately to exposing some of this lesser-known Celtic music to the 5-string banjo. I hope that these efforts will preserve the beauty and diversity of the tradition for another generation or so. I believe musical traditions are like languages; each tells us something different about the multi-faceted nature of humanity.

May this inspire you to greater and more productive banjo-ing. Enjoy!


P.S. The attached video is played on a 4-string banjo, but the tablature file is for a 5-string.

P.P.S. For a few more versions of the song:

-Nolwenn Leroy (pretty, modern Breton singer)

-Shannon (Polish folk band)

-Les Chipettes (female version of Alan and the Chipmunks ***REALLY ANNOYING***)

-Manau (French hip-hop group that used the tune for an original rap)

Edited by - stigandr5 on 02/21/2012 09:54:13

VIDEO: "Tri Martolod" Breton Folk Song with Nathan Wendte on Canjo
(click to view)

Tri Martolod

janolov - Posted - 02/21/2012:  11:08:24


I like your idea to bring up old traditional European music, and this was a part of European music that I haven't met before. In Sweden we usually call this region for Bretagne, I think it is the French name for the region.

Your canjo really sounds good, too (even if it isn't any traditional instrument from Brittany). 

stigandr5 - Posted - 02/21/2012:  15:15:54

Hi janolov,

Yes, Bretagne in French (Breizh in Breton). Thanks for your interest! I'd love to learn some Swedish polskas on the banjo at some point.

Chadbanjo - Posted - 02/21/2012:  15:30:13

Those 3 sailors must have been the ones who claimed Saint-Pierre & Miquelon for France. Saint-Pierre & Miquelon is France's oldest remaining overseas territory, right of the coast of Newfoundland. Lots of rum running back in the day and still some.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 02/25/2012:  05:15:18

Very nice, a great and interesting performance.  Transcribed in notation, the tune appears to be in Dorian mode, in the key of C, although I think you are tuned pretty much in double D in the video.  You show the scale as C Dorian, the melody is structured in what the medieval scholars would have called plagal mode, in that it's melodic range is from the 5th below the tonic to the 4th or 5th above the tonic.  In its plagal structure, you show the scale as G A A# C D D# F G.  Conventionally, it would be normally written as G A Bb C D Eb F G.  This is basically the scale you use when you pick the tune on the canjo, but in your singing, you are actually tending towards the neutral tones, the quarter tones between the Bb and the B, the Eb and E, and the F and the G.  This tendency to blur the distinction between major and minor tonalities is common in Appalachian ballad singing as well, and helps give the song its very ancient sound.  Your performance, which I assume is based on Breton tradition, shows that this is indeed a very old, deeply rooted practice.  A very intriguing tune of the week.



majikgator - Posted - 02/25/2012:  13:57:06

If you say so Don, went right over ny little pee brain. Neat tune. i lkike a lot of European folk music, especially Celtic whic is the basis of so much Appalachian music as well as a lot of the Scandinavian folk music and then there is some that i run from in horror. NIce job on a nice folk instrument.

stigandr5 - Posted - 02/27/2012:  07:29:13


Wow! Thanks for the exegesis of that!


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