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.

UWI Erects Rampin Shop

Las May’s cartoon in last Wednesday’s Gleaner humorously insinuated that the University of the West Indies was about to erect a rampin shop because I’d invited Vbyz Kartel to give a lecture on his life and art.

Las May Gleaner cartoon

And there was Wilmot Perkins, prophet of doom and gloom, ominously declaring, “See’t . . . proof that UWI is an intellectual ghetto!”  Of course, opening up the university to popular culture is the very opposite of enclosing the institution in the narrow confines of a ghetto. But that subtlety appears to have been lost in the broad humour.

Spill-over audience at the Undercroft, Varun Baker photo

Erecting an academic romping shop might seem like a complete contradiction in terms.  The life of the intellect is often presumed to be purely cerebral.  And romping, as in Spice and Kartel’s shop, is definitely a lower order, hands-on sport:  “Every man grab a gyal . . . and every gyal grab a man.”

But the best of universities really are romping shops in which passionate, creative energy flows freely. That ‘eureka’ moment of insight when a difficult mathematical problem is solved, or a dense passage of prose suddenly releases its meaning is practically orgasmic.

In fact, we often use sexy images to talk about academic concepts. Like conception.  We conceive ideas in much the say way that we reproduce.  Men tend to think that their ideas are all seminal.  But since ‘so-so’ semen can never produce a child, I always add ovular with a stroke. An egg is essential for conception.

Jamaica in a pothole

Las May’s cartoon, with its implied criticism of my decision to invite Mr. Adidja Palmer to give a lecture at UWI, anticipated Clovis’s cartoon published this Tuesday in the Obsever.

Clovis's Observer cartoon

Both cartoons reminded me of the controversy provoked by my asking Ninja Man to be the first speaker in a series of talks by reggae/dancehall artists that the Reggae Studies Unit launched in 2002.

Ninjaman performing at Curefest 2007

The DJ chose as the title of his presentation, ‘Ninja Man’s Programme to Elevate Jamaica.’ Skeptics questioned his capacity to speak with authority on the subject.  Decent citizens bombarded the University administration with strident complaints that the decision to invite the DJ to lecture was a clear sign that the walls of the ivory tower had been irreparably breached.  On Friday, October 13, the Daily Observer converted into national news a routine press release announcing the DJ’s presentation.

Ninja Man did not come after all.  In response, the October 15 Sunday Observer published a deliberately misleading cartoon:  a notice on the chalkboard in a lecture room, presumably on the UWI campus, announces Ninja Man’s talk, scheduled for 5:00 p.m. A clock says 7:00 p.m.  The teacher looks impatiently at her watch.  Two students are fast asleep and one of the remaining two says to her, ‘Him not coming again Miss Cooper, maybe him gone border clash.’

The dismissive cartoon did not accurately reflect what happened.  A capacity audience of several hundred students, faculty and members of the public engaged in lively conversation about the meaning of Ninja Man’s work when it became clear that he was not going to appear.  The discussion lasted for well over an hour.

The following week Ninja Man did come to talk as the opening act for Louise Frazer-Bennett.  He observed:  ‘Jamaica a go dung into a pothole.  And we need . . . not me, not you, not some of us . . . we need the whole country to come together and mek a start.  The Prime Minister himself need help.’  Ninja Man’s startling image of the state machinery crashing in a pothole vividly turns the everyday horrors of Jamaica’s steadily deteriorating roads into a powerful symbol of total moral recklessness.

Rude bwoy dancehall

Kartel lecturing, Varun Baker photo

As was to be expected, Kartel’s lecture at the academic rampin shop proved to be both entertaining and analytical.  One of his most perceptive insights focused on the politics of reggae and dancehall:

“Whereas reggae spoke to the Garveyite message of one love, dancehall generally speaks to the Bogle message of rebellion which, in my opinion, is why it is sometimes feared, scrutinised and demonised by our post-colonial masters and their subordinates.  My music is controversial. But so was reggae which, interestingly, was labelled ‘rebel music’ back in the day.

“So reggae was also controversial before it was fully accepted first by the lower class of people where it originated; then by the upper class of society after it had garnered international recognition.  So, basically, it went abroad and came back to us and we accepted it.  Cau you know Jamaican love foreign tings.  Yeah.

“Seriously, though, much of what dancehall is saying today is not much different from the rude bwoy era of reggae music.  For reference I would like to quote two Bob Marley songs:

‘I want to disturb my neighbour cause I’m feeling so right

I want to turn up di disco blow them to full watts tonight.’

Or the more politically poignant, ‘Cause I feel like bombing a church now now that you know the preacher is lying.’

“The point that I am trying to make is that ‘the stone that the builder refused shall become the head cornerstone.’  And right now dancehall has become that disregarded stone.  Because, look into this.  Thirty odd years ago Bob Marley was despised and ridiculed by the upper echelons of society as a dutty-head Rasta bwoy, ganja-smoking . . . .  Now, now that same Bob Marley is poster boy for the Jamaica Tourist Board wid im big spliff inna im mout same way.  Alright.  Fast forward to Vybz Kartel.”

Part of the 5000 strong audience, Varun Baker photo

For an excellent account of the lecture which attracted an unprecedented audience of 5000, visit Annie Paul’s blog:

anniepaulose.wordpress.com

In all the interviews I did before the lecture, the same question kept coming up:  What do you expect to accomplish? Kartel has decided to apply for admission to the UWI to do a degree in business management. He will certainly show us how to run the rampin shop.