Nanny of the Maroons, ca 1686 – 1733
I was born in Jamaica, and my little island home has a motto: “Out of Many, One People” — we’re a blendy bunch! West African slaves, British landowners, Portuguese & Spanish slave-traders, Irish & Scottish indentured servants & sailors, Syrian & Jewish merchants, Chinese & East Indian workers, Germans shipwrecked on their way to the Americas, Indigenous Native Islanders – the Arawaks… over the years creating a rich mosaic of gorgeous, hard working people. There are a few people who weren’t that keen on the blendiness however… These people, steeped in mystery, would be the Maroons.
So let’s get into the word Maroon. Derogatory terms describing blacks have come and gone, with a few harsh ones lingering… this one is subtle & not so popular these days , but holds its own to the N* word –I suspect anything expressed to mentally & emotionally browbeat an individual to keep them submissive & docile would be used liberally to maintain one’s position… yeahyeahyeah! enough of that! I feel my secret ‘egghead’ trying to bust thru, and I like to keep things lightish… ‘Maroon’ was simply a derivative of the Spanish word ‘Cimarrone’ which means to flee, as the rebellious slaves fled to the [at the time] unexplored mountains of Jamaica to get away from the harsh treatment by their masters.
So enter Nanny, along with a majority of the slaves in Jamaica, brought over from Ghana—rumored to be part of the Ashanti tribe. There isn’t much written information on her, most of her story has been passed down by word of mouth with a bit of embellishment and slightly differing storylines– negligible, but fun to piece together. Some have her as a queen when she was in Ghana, sometimes married, sometimes she was a spinster & chaste, she was a witch, or Obeah woman… one thing is certain, she was an extremely organized leader, along with her brothers, and if they weren’t going home, they WERE going to be free in this new place.
OK, let’s just bring this home—there were in total 16 slave rebellions in Jamaica between 1655-1813. Clearly, this ‘slavery thing’ wasn’t for them. According to the timeline, Nanny & Crew may have jumped into the thick of things [remember she was born @ 1686] perhaps 1720ish? Up until her death @ 1733. The rest carried on the rebellions until the final straw, ‘The Baptist War Rebellion of 1831’ ending in total abolition of slavery on August 1, 1834. Nanny may not have lived to see all of her people be free and flourish as they were meant to, in well-organized sections throughout the Island – 11 in total, but she had quite a hand in the efforts, even for the rest of the slaves. She continues to be a hero in Jamaica, and paintings & etchings of her are recognizable all over the Island.
One of the unusual practices of the Maroons, I’ve heard, is that out of the whole populous on the Island, this group of people would never mix with any of the other Jamaicans. To them we are tainted. Their vow is that the blood of the oppressors would never run through their veins. Perhaps the astringency has changed by now, but for quite a while they were known as extreme isolationists. As a kid I was conflicted because how can we be ‘Out of Many, One People’ with this sort of thinking? However, now understanding the concept of ethnic cleansing and other abhorrent practices, my frustrated 6 & 7 year old little wrinkled brow has relaxed with a nod of acknowledgment. Still don’t like it! But I get it… sadly…
Don’t really have a quote from Nanny of the Maroons, but I suspect at some point, when the group was dillydallying, she got irritated and did a very loud & stern whisper of something that meant: “Let’s GOOOOOO!” oh, wait, that’s something I’d do…:)
Sarah Vaughan, March 27 1924 – April 3 1990
One summer when I was little, like @ 9 or 10, my oldest brother and I were driving around in his old Peugeot on a Sunday morning– flea market, roadside fruits & veggies people, auto parts store – then later, a patty & a cola champagne. His sunroof had a crank & I’d always open it up! That was our routine, with a few switch-ups here & there… then the minute we got home I’d hightail it to the pool with my best friend Suzie before it got too dark. So that one time I noticed he had a Sarah Vaughan cassette tape in the side pocket thingy… ‘Who’s this?’ I asked… then with my nose wrinkled up ‘she’s not very pretty…’ and to be fair, it wasn’t a great picture of Sarah… she was older, years of hard work & partying [oh she liked to party!] mid-sweat, mid-belting of something fabulous I’m sure, and whoever the art director was of this particular recording wasn’t doing her any aesthetic favors… Donnie didn’t say much, he chuckled & mumbled “well….” So off to various stops we’d go! Later, after jumping back in the car, the news station was off, and this cool tune with this ridiculous voice was playing, then another song– I don’t even remember what songs they were! It was like magic! This voice!! Donnie goes, “that’s her, ‘The Divine One’ the incomparable Sarah Vaughan…” and he winked at me & smiled. Her voice… it was like silk & velvet with a couple bits of caramelized sugar melting back into what it was caramelized in… and honey, loads of orange blossom honey… no, it wasn’t all blended together, ew… it was more like separate yet culminating moments, all different, yet all related… that make sense? I was enamored – I was like ‘that’s that lady??’
That lady… now I’m not a Jazz aficionado by any means, but I do dig it… jazz is more than music to me, it’s the purest form of audible abstract art, enhancing everything it touches. Paco de Lucia added jazz to flamenco, and was nearly shunned in the genre for disturbing the ‘Puro’ until… until… long story short, his style became the New Standard. How about that flamenco huh?? 😉 another time, kids… so back in the day I made a mix cd [thank you Napster! shhhh…] I called it ‘the goils’ and on it was a fetching ditty called “Key Largo”, Sarah’s voice on it is absolutely stunning, weaving gracefully in & out of the band— breath control! timing! melody! discipline! Wow… granted every time I hear it now outside of my cd –which I can’t find– when it’s done I automatically hear ‘Shoo Fly Pan & Apple Pan Dowdy’ [June Christy’s version] which was next in the queue…. I don’t even know why I told you that! It’s a hot song tho! Ha!
Sarah Vaughn’s career is extensive & impressive. Like any great artist she would immerse herself in different styles- ever growing, evolving, but retaining her basic, comfortable awesomeness, and doing it all with such grace & ease… and everybody wanted to work with her! So at the start, although she had a few late-night sneak out moments when she was in school going to clubs to both watch & perform in secret, her official starting off point was in 1942, and she would build her career & legend all the way thru to her death in 1990. It seems during 1989 after a doctor’s visit for an arthritic condition that was so bad she had cancelled show dates,sadly resulted in a discovery & diagnosis of lung cancer. Terminal. She was only 66. The music world mourned her, the’ grown up people’ music world really felt the sting that something truly special, so very beautiful, was gone back into the universe.
“When I sing, trouble can sit right on my shoulder and I don’t even notice”