Lomorra Dillon, a resident of Moore Town in Portland who attends Happy Grove High School, is 14 years old.
But her vocal quality and broad knowledge of Maroon music were enough to land her the role of lead singer in the Granny Nanny Cultural Group, which hails from the Rio Grande Valley in Portland, and is steadfast on a mission to keep traditional Maroon music alive.
“I feel very proud of being the lead singer of the group because I get to be a part of something that helps to carry on the culture so it won’t get extinct,” said the teen who has been the lead singer since she was nine years old.
The first Maroons of the Rio Grande Valley where Dillon lives were people who ran away from slavery. Their leader, Queen Nanny, is Jamaica’s only national heroine. It is not surprising, therefore, that the ensemble has been named in her honour.
The group, which Major Charles Aarons started in 1995, thinks it has a solemn responsibility to ensure the survival of Maroon traditions.
“The culture is what brings life to the group,” said Anthony Ireland, who is tasked with promulgating the Maroon traditions of the Rio Grande Valley.
“We consider ourselves the last bastion of the Maroon culture,” he asserted.
Another member of the Granny Nanny Cultural Group, Malkia Moore-Minott, said the songs recited are special to Maroons.
“The songs we sing have been sung by our ancestors for hundreds of years and passed down to us. Many of the songs are not in English; they are in the indigenous Maroon languages,” she told Jamaica Beacon.
The Granny Nanny Cultural Group, in 2016, produced a double-CD and an accompanying magazine in its effort to spread the music and earn from it.
The CD, which has 31 tracks, is titled: Granny Nanny Come Oh – Jamaican Maroon Kromanti and Kumina Music and Other Oral Traditions.
“Five percent of whatever earnings we make from the album goes back to the communities, the schools, and stuff like that,” Ireland said. “That is one of our ways of giving back to the communities.”
The CD is available on CDBaby and Amazon.
The Granny Nanny Cultural Group, which toured the United States in 2016, is also available for live performances.
“We would like shows and other events where we can perform and earn and take care of our community because we don’t like to beg,” Ireland said.
He added that the group comprises about 50 people, including 15 active performers.
Moore-Minott, in the meantime, explained that the ensemble is involved in a myriad of social activities, prompted especially by the fact that most communities in the Rio Grande Valley are underdeveloped. They lack reliable transportation as well as basic infrastructure such as proper roads.
To help alleviate the transportation woes, the group said it recently acquired a minibus to transport its members to events, and students to and from school.
It’s also available for various other community activities.
“The task to catch a vehicle to get to school is itself a struggle. The group has secured a van, which we intend to convert into a school bus to transport children like [our lead singer] Lomorra to school,” Moore-Minott said.
She further told The Jamaica Beacon: “We are trying to raise funds to service this vehicle to get it road-worthy. It is in dire need of front end parts and tyres.”
The Granny Nanny Cultural Group said its music is well received wherever it performs.
“Everywhere we go people love the music – especially the sound of the drums,” Ireland disclosed.
“We disburse the culture in its full authentic form – drums are played by hand, as well as the shakers and bamboos. We use natural products although we have secondary things that we make from metal. We also use strictly voice acoustics; we have no tape recording for you to get riddims from. That is what we bring,” he further said.
By Horace Mills