Stage show in Heaven for Lady Saw

Marion Hall’s recent decision to get baptised again won’t surprise anyone who has been following Lady Saw’s flamboyant career. In a 1998 interview in the Uncensored series on FAME FM, the deejay frankly announced, “Lady Saw is a act.”

ladysaw-alterego.jpg

She describes her 2014 album, Alter Ego, in this way: “It’s Marion Hall with a touch of Lady Saw.” The deejay’s spectacular performance of the role of Lady Saw is not usually seen by her detractors as a calculated decision by the actress Marion Hall to earn a very good living on the dancehall stage.

This self-possessed artiste has always claimed the right to privacy and freedom to escape her public image. In that interview almost two decades ago, she draws a straight line between her job and her true-true identity: “I’m a nice girl. When I’m working, you know, just love it or excuse it.”

Many critics just can’t love Lady Saw’s performances or excuse her transgressions. So she’s usually censured for being far too slack. Or worse, she’s dismissed as a mere victim of circumstances, mindlessly playing the expected role as sex object.

SEXISM IS THE ISSUE

Crotch-grabbing-collection-WooHoo-michael-jackson-12121433-804-1200In that FAME FM interview, the deejay was questioned about her body language: “Lady Saw, you do things like, yu grab yu crotch onstage … .” Her answer makes it clear that sexism is the real issue: “Uh-huh. Michael Jackson did it and nobody say anything about it.”

The interviewer persists: “And you gyrate on the ground. I mean, do you think this is acceptable for a woman?” Lady Saw responds boldly: “Yes, darling. For this woman. And a lot of woman would like to do the same, but I guess they are too shy.”

Lady Saw is absolutely right. Her female fans enjoy her daring. They would like to act like her. But they are trapped in roles of respectability. So they leave it to her to speak and gyrate for them. And she simply brushes off criticism: “I think critics are there to do their job and I am here to my job … . To entertain and please my fans.”

Even those critics who would never admit to being fans are often mesmerised by Lady Saw’s brazenness. They are caught between self-righteous condemnation and open-mouthed fascination. For example, Papa Pilgrim, a radio disc jockey in Salt Lake City, in his 1993 report on Reggae Sunsplash Dancehall Night, published in The Beat magazine:

“Then came a performance that was more vulgar than any I have seen from anyone anywhere! Her name is Lady Saw, and as a Jamaican friend commented, you cannot put enough Xs in front of her name to adequately describe what she did. To quote from the August 3 Gleaner, ‘She went to the bottom of the pit and came up with sheer filth and vulgar lyrics which made Yellow Man at his worst seem like a Boy Scout.'”

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NOT ONLY SLACK

There’s always been another side to Lady Saw. She knows her Bible. At 12, Marion Hall was baptised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And that upbringing has left its mark on her alter ego. Lady Saw can be as pious as ever.

She has quite a few hymns in her repertoire, celebrating divine guidance. For example, Glory Be to God:

When I remember where I’m coming from

Through all the trials and the tribulation

Yes, the hardship and the sufferation

I have to go on my knees

And sing praises to God

Glory be to God!

Praises to His name!

Thanks for taking me

Out of the bondage and chains.

Lady Saw knows she has a duty to help liberate young women from the bondage and chains of unwise choices. In that Uncensored interview, she was asked, “What would you say to a young girl now out there who wants to be nothing but just like you?” It’s Marion Hall who answers: “I tell them all the time them come to me with it: ‘I want to be like you, Lady Saw.’

“‘Like me? You choose suppen else.’ I can tek my consequences dem right now. I don’t know if she strong enough to deal with what I’m dealing with. So I don’t encourage them to be like Lady Saw. Sometimes they say, ‘I love all yu songs.’ I seh, ‘Yu try listen to the good ones, not the bad ones.'”

FEMINIST EMANCIPATION

Heartbeat-6-1Marion Hall’s conversion inspired a typically witty response from Ninja Man, aka Brother Desmond: “A di greatest move anyone ever mek in the history of dancehall. Lady Saw don’t need a pound of flour. She don’t need a pound of sugar. She don’t need nothing. All she need now is God. God bless her and put her which part she fi reach. And she feel that is time now.

“She do her time wid di devil. Now is time to serve the Lord. In the name of Jesus … . As the Bible tell yu seh, yu know, when one gi im soul yu know, Heaven bruck loose, yu know. So yu know a stage show up there last night.”

I’m going to miss Lady Saw. She’s been a model of feminist emancipation from sexual repression. I hope Marion Hall will find a way to keep her alter ego in the church.

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Kartel To Lecture At UWI

I got an instructive email from Vybz Kartel last Wednesday in response to my letter to the editor published that same day (‘More on Kartel and bleaching’). I reproduce it here with his permission. Since the email was sent on his BlackBerry, the punctuation was a bit informal, so I did just a little editing for clarity.

“Ms Cooper, firstly, I’d like to wish you a pleasant goodnight (or morning depending on when u receive this email). Secondly, I’d like to say that I am the author of the song. Russian didn’t write a line. And if you’d paid as much attention to the dexterity exhibited in the song as you have to the perceived subliminal messages of self-hate blah blah blah etc etc, you’d have figured that out.

“Thirdly, neither ‘di gyal dem’ opinion or urs matter to vybz kartel. What matters is that my songs get so popular (as is the case with the one u and ur colleagues ‘a look a fawud offa’), I can provide for myself and my family which I have been doing and will continue to do so, especially with the help of people such as urself who, by giving so much energy to vybz kartel via articles like this, make vybz kartel ‘the talked about one’. Which is all I need to capitalise on the prize. I hope you people write about me every day of the week. Thanks and have a goodnight.

“Famously yours, ADIDJA ‘MICHAEL CAKESOAP JACKSON’ PALMER”

Clovis cartoon (Jamaica Observer)

I sent an equally frank response:

“Mr Palmer, great to hear from you. I’ve wanted to link with you for a long time, so I’m glad you decided to get in touch with me. I don’t know if you saw my column on Sunday, as well as yesterday’s letter to the editor. Here’s the link to that column:

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110227/cleisure/cleisure3.html.

Spice and Kartel in di Rampin Shop

“I certainly agree with you that the more we talk about Vybz Kartel, the more popular we make you. I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I’m quite proud of all the DJs who have been able to make a very good living from their craft. Mi know nuff people grudge unnu, but I am not one of them. I don’t know if you saw my column in which I strongly defended Rampin’ Shop when other people were attacking you and Spice. Here’s the link to that column: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20090222/cleisure/cleisure6.html.

“Thanks for clarifying that you are the author of the lyrics that Russian performed. So, in a sense, I was right that those are all your words. Then, as you say, I know my opinion doesn’t really matter to you. But, for what it’s worth, I think you’re such a powerful role model for young people, I’m hoping you would think about reclaiming your original skincolour, which I thought was quite fine. Yes, I know, that’s just my opinion.

“I see Michael Jackson is a role model for you. But he really was a tragic figure. My opinion again :=) Michael was such a cute, little black boy. And he turned himself into a monstrosity.  Just look at the history of his face:

Michael Jackson was rich enough to manufacture himself but ‘im never turn out so right’. Something went wrong in the factory.

“Even if he’d had vitiligo, he didn’t have to end up looking the way he did. Anyhow, mek mi know what yu think about all of these opinions. And, given your appreciation of the role of the media in feeding celebrity, I figure you won’t object to my reproducing our email correspondence in my column on Sunday. So let me know if it’s OK with you. And in response to your P.S., ‘pretty’ is a word usually associated with females, as distinct from ‘handsome’, which usually refers to males.

“Then I teach a course on Reggae Poetry at UWI and the first assignment I give students each year is to select any reggae/dancehall song they like and analyse its literary qualities. As usual, some of the students selected your songs this semester. It would be great if you would come to one of the lectures and talk about your creative work. I can just see the headline, ‘Vybz Kartel lectures at UWI’. DWL. Looking forward to your response.

“Bless

“Carolyn”

Public education

Mr Palmer readily accepted my invitation. So Vybz Kartel is going to lecture at UWI this Thursday at 7 p.m. on the topic ‘Pretty Like a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art’.

The Department of Literatures in English and the Centre for Gender and Development Studies are hosting the lecture, which takes place at the Undercroft of the Senate building. The public is invited to attend.

I’d actually like to see Vybz Kartel register as a student at the University of the West Indies and apply his considerable intellect in another sphere of influence. How many young men on the corner might consider the option of formal education if they saw Kartel in university!

Another cultural event this week to which the public is invited is the launch of the book Herbs of Jamaica, written by Ivelyn Harris, a seventh-generation Maroon herbalist. The launch takes place on Thursday at 3 p.m. in the Lecture Hall of the Institute of Jamaica on East Street.

Ms Harris has spent over 30 years documenting the healing properties of Jamaican herbs. These natural products have been tested by the Maroons for more than 300 years. Herbal remedies can improve sexual stamina; heal rashes, sores, stings and bites; relieve menstrual, urinary and prostate problems; and a host of other ailments. I wonder if there’s a herbal cure for the mental slavery, which is so vividly manifested these days in the plague of skin bleaching.