Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Stage show in Heaven for Lady Saw

Published:Sunday | December 27, 2015 | 12:00 AM

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."

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

 

In 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.'"

 

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 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

 

Marion 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.

• Carolyn Cooper is a teacher of English language and literature. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.