The Lady saw the Light
The crisis in decadent dancehall deepened last week. The annual showcase of vulgarity and the glorification of criminality, Sting, is providing no cover this year for today's poster boys and girls of decadence. Vybz Kartel is in prison and Lady Saw is now in church. Hip, hip, hooray! Praise Jesus!
The biggest story all week has been Lady Saw's baptism on Monday night following that super-emotional funeral for X-rated artiste, J Capri. Forget about all the political, economic, and public-affairs stories. That's not what the people have been talking about. At 9 o'clock on Monday night, Bishop Everton Thomas of the Emmanuel Apostolic Church texted me: "Ian ... I just baptised Marion Hall. She said she is ready. Cancelled all shows for the rest of the year. Praise God!"
I texted back: "You are serious? That would be big news if it is genuine on her part." Bishop texted me back: "I sense she is. She is gonna need a strong team of intercessors covering her and a strong discipline for spiritual formation."
Like me, the first question on many people's minds was whether this will last; whether it is not an emotional flash in the pan; whether she will be another short-lived 'Brother Desmond' (Ninja Man).
But there are some clear things to consider. Lady Saw has been contemplating this move for a long time - at least since 2012. In fact, she had announced before that she had her last stage show. And her last raunchy, X-rated dancehall song. On Emancipation Day, August 1 ,2013, Janet Silvera had an article in The Gleaner titled 'Lady Saw calls it a day for the last time'. Saw is quoted as saying: "This is my last performance on Reggae Sumfest, my last performance in the dancehall; I am going to do gospel music."
She said further, "I am retiring because I hate the business. Dancehall too wicked. I am not loving it anymore, so I am going to get baptised." In 2012, she had made the same pledge but never kept it. After she found out her long-time live-in lover 'John John' had been unfaithful to her, Lady Saw was emotionally devastated. As happens to many people in that kind of psychological condition, she was turning to the Lord. A very present help in trouble.
She tweeted after the big 'bun': "Been thinking of getting baptised from about six months now, but then some people draw me out and I end up cussing them out. Well, not anymore." She even had a message then for her producers, just as she has sent out one now to promoters who have booked her for Christmas and New Year's shows. She told them on Facebook: "To all record producers, the reason why I didn't record your songs from nine months ago until now is cuz of what I've been experiencing, u get it. I have some shows to do that I already got paid for, so after that am out. Sometimes I am talking to God and I find myself humming and coming up with melodies so I am struggling with both sides because nobody is perfect ... . I have even contemplating baptism ... ."
So Lady Saw's turn is not exactly overnight or merely spur of the moment. It is a move she has been contemplating. Also noteworthy is that though she had been saying from 2012 that she was moving towards baptism, she never actually did it. She never baptised and backslid. This apparently is a woman who thought of that final step of baptism as being so serious that though she was near, she never actually took the plunge - apparently until she was fully ready. Perhaps she has counted the cost, to use a biblical terminology.
To be sure, that very emotional J Capri funeral was a major trigger. The fact that J Capri died tragically and so young heightened the intensity of the moment. But the fact that there was, indeed, an emotional trigger does not mean that the conversion cannot be long-lasting or meaningful. Human beings are not just cognitive beings. We are affective, emotional beings. Emotions have a positive role, too.
Think, too, about the fact that if Lady Saw was not serious or genuine, she chose absolutely the worst time to make her decision in terms of business. If Lady Saw had waited just three or four weeks, she could have picked up a lot of dough. Remember before when she threatened to be baptised, she talked about doing so after she fulfilled her commitments to her promoters. This time, she basically told them to go to hell or at least that she was intent on going to Heaven!
This time she is quoted as telling Gleaner reporter Livern Barrett boldly in Thursday's paper, "I care zero about money." It was most gratifying to read her interview. She seems to have calculated what discipleship might mean - though contemplating the hardships and experiencing them is not exactly the same thing.
In that interview, Evangelist Marion Hall said, "I use to worry and say, 'Bwoy, if I walk away from this, how me a go mek dem money deh again? ... Weh me a go get money fi dis and dat? And that's why I took so long to walk away." That's self-disclosure. That's coming clean. She was afraid to walk away from the bling, the addiction to materialism, which is as synonymous with the dancehall as it is with hedonistic capitalism.
Lady Saw's conversion is not just a significant religious event. It is an even more significant and pivotal cultural event: It represents a rejection of a certain set of values which have defined hedonistic, nihilistic capitalism and decadent dancehall. Evangelist Hall is now on the other side of the culture war. Capitalist society and its mimic - decadent, backward dancehall (not to be confused with all dancehall) - tells us we are nothing, but what we possess.
Hedonistic capitalism - of the non-Weberian type - tells us our lives consist of what we possess; we are what we own, what we drive, where we live, what we wear, etc. One of the big problems any government will have in Jamaica is that our people have champagne taste on lemonade budget, and rather than working diligently and sometimes long to accumulate, we love get-rich schemes.
Dancehall embodies that perversion of values. Listen to the lyrics of many songs. When they are not glorifying death and slackness, they are lionising bling and putting down the poor and dispossessed.
Lady Saw's conversion is an important cultural moment. It is big for the Christian Church. There is none of us in the Church, no book-quoting intellectual, no sophisticated theologian or leader of umbrella churches who can hope to have the kind of influence that a Lady Saw will have. Her conversion can be worth far more than many crusades held all over the island. For her testimony is powerful, her reach enormous.
Can you imagine when she hits the testimony train? (Or Religious Hardtalk next season! I am hoping she survives that long) Saw's conversion has come at the right time to join the conscious reggae revolution of Rastafarian idrens and sistrens like Chronixx, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid, Jah9, Queen Ifrica, Rootz Underground , Raging Fyah, etc. She must join them to beat down Babylon and its false values; a Babylon that has kept our people under what Karl Marx called false consciousness, enslaving us to perverted values.
Babylon, yu throne gone down with Lady Saw's abandoning your kingdom. Lady Saw's stock-in-trade was slackness on steroids. God has taken her from that dancehall mess (which Dwayne Vaz recently wallowed in) and has given her a message. Saw is going to need a lot of mentorship. I suggest that Goddy Goddy is the most appropriate person to lead that mentorship team. Goddy Goddy has a cadre of former hardcore, debauched inner-city 'worldians' who are now converted.
Lady Saw needs to spend time with people who have been in the same kind of pit she is emerging from. 'Stush' people will be of little help. She needs people to prepare her for the coming tests and trials, and her conflicting emotions. She needs to be showered with encouragement, acceptance and love.
I love her attitude: "I am used to poverty and I am used to eating banana and with some prakash ... . If mi light gone, mi turn to one lamp, or light one candle." Babylon can't buy we out. We not bowing for money, and dem cyaa buy wi out for rice and peas and curry goat - or bling.
Sister Marion, forward ever, backward never!