Lady Saw has forged a career in the male-dominated world of Jamaican dancehall reggae. Her style of deejaying rivals that of the most lewd and crude of her male contemporaries. But Lady Saw is out there to prove more than that she can deejay with the best (or worst) of them; she’s out to prove that she’s a well-rounded singer and performer and a politically conscious person as well. She has been a consistent female presence in the dancehall scene, where other women have failed, for a decade. Her popularity in the reggae scene has helped her gain notoriety with American rap and pop stars such as Eve, L’il Kim, and Foxy Brown. In 2002 she expanded her audience when the ska/punk band No Doubt featured her on their popular hit “Underneath It All.” The St. Lucia Mirror described her as “a consummate and energetic performer who feeds off her audience every single time.”
Born Marion Hall around 1971, in Galina, St. Mary, Jamaica, she was the middle child of nine children. Her father was a fisherman and a farmer. Her mother was a domestic worker. They lived with her grandmother in a one-room house. Their family struggled to survive, with the children doing what they could to contribute to the family income. They would pick a variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables to sell at market. Hall’s brothers made brooms. Hall labored as a domestic worker in exchange for food and clothing.
Hall’s stage persona as Lady Saw is a distinct contrast to her true self, the way she is now and when she was growing up. When she was younger, Hall sang in her church choir, a far cry from the sexually explicit lyrics and stage antics she is known and criticized for. While a child she was often mistaken for a boy because of her short hair and the Rastafarian tarn, a kind of knit hat, that she wore. As Lady Saw she is unmistakably female.
Hall got her start in reggae when she started recording with some local sound systems. A phenomenon of Jamaican culture, sound systems are usually mobile and run by record producers. The producers commission performers so they can test styles and ensure a constant supply of new music. The sound systems are usually set up in public areas to allow anyone to listen. Hall began performing for sound systems when she was 15 years old. She feels that her work with sound systems gave her an understanding of the recording process and helped prepare her for working in more professional studios.
Eventually Hall moved to Kingston to give her career a chance. What she found was that male recording artists were often uplifted, while female artists were overlooked. Hall made a decision to not be overlooked. She told Tyrone Reid of the Jamaica Gleaner, “I never got much recognition when I went about it the proper way, so I had to put down my foot and kick it like a man.” Her decision involved taking on a name that paid tribute to the influential male deejay, Tenor Saw, and writing lyrics that were heavy on the slack (the term used for extremely explicit sexual lyrics and performances).
In 1994 Hall released her first album, Bare As You Dare. This album helped establish Hall as the queen of dancehall and slack. In particular, the tune “Stab Out the Meat” became a hit in Jamaica and increased her notoriety among dancehall fans. Her next album, Give Me the Reason, delivered more of Lady Saw’s raunchy lyrics. She also used the album to showcase her range of singing ability. The album includes a country-sounding song called “Give Me a Reason” and a gospel song called “Glory Be to God.” The album also features a scathing attack on those who accused her of being obscene. The song “What Is Slackness?” shot back that political corruption and lies were more obscene than her lyrics.
Once Hall took a dive into slackness, she had to deal with controversy. She believes that a double standard is being applied to her. She said to Miranda Sawyer of the Observer, “A lot of men do it and nothing come out of it.” For Hall, much has come out of it. In 1994 she was banned from several Jamaican parishes, including Montego Bay, after a performance. In 2000 a newspaper published a picture of Hall’s performance that members of the St. James Parish Council found offensive. The council chastised the newspaper and several members wanted to ban her from ever performing there again. In 2001 Hall and Rodney Price, whose deejay name is Bounty Killer, were sentenced to 240 hours of community service after being charged with breaking laws regarding lewdness.
Born Marion Hall c. 1971 in Galina, St. Mary, Jamaica; daughter of a farmer/fisherman and a domestic worker.
Started performing at age 15 in small clubs near home, c. 1986; moved to Kingston to try to get a record contract, c. 1992; established herself in dancehall circles with her explicit lyrics, c. 1992; released first album Bare As You Dare, 1994; banned from performing in some areas of Jamaica, 1994; appeared in documentary Yardies, 1994; started gaining international attention, 1996; collaborated with a number of other dancehall stars, including Shaggy, Beenie Man, and Vitamin C, 1997-2000; recorded single “Underneath It All” with popular American ska/punk group No Doubt, 2002.
Awards: Jamaica Federation of Musicians (JFM), Female DJ of the Year, 2001; Tamika Reggae Awards, Female DJ of the Year, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —VP Records, 89-05 138th St., Jamaica, NY 11435, phone: (718) 291-7058, fax: (718) 658-3573. Website— Lady Saw Official Website: http://www.ladysaw.net.
Although she may not be popular with the public officials of Jamaica, Hall is a consistent hit with the general population. She has tried to tame her lyrics but her audiences expect and demand slack. She told Sawyer, “There was a piece in the paper saying Lady Saw should be banned, so when I went back to that venue I was doing a lot of clean lyrics. But the audience was getting all mad… So then I have to do it because I have to please my fans or else there’ll be no work.” Hall draws a distinct line between who she is offstage and the character she is onstage as Lady Saw. She explained to Reid, “When she [Lady Saw] is on stage is a whole heap of craziness; however Marion is a loving and homely girl.” Hall says some of her favorite activities include cooking, gardening, and taking care of children.
Each of her albums has had its hits on the reggae charts. She has collaborated with some of reggae’s most popular male performers. In 1996 she had a hit with Beenie Man called “Healing.” She has worked with the Grammy Award-winning singer Shaggy as well as Bounty Killer. In 2002 she was featured on No Doubt’s single “Underneath It All,” which eventually made it to the number-three spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list. As Lady Saw extends her reach beyond her homeland of Jamaica, she hopes to explore other styles of music. She told Elena Oumano of Billboard, “Every year I think I get better. You grow, gain experience, and feel different things, like jazz, blues, and country. I’m not giving up reggae; I mix it up. But I feel sometimes like doing an album of pure jazz or blues, so I’m going to start listening to [those music styles] more.”
Bare As You Dare, Diamond Rush, 1994.
Lover Girl, VP, 1994.
Give Me the Reason, VP, 1996.
Passion, VP, 1997.
Raw: The Best of Lady Saw, VP, 1998.
99 Ways, VP, 1999.
Billboard, June 28, 1997, p. 8.
BPI Entertainment News Wire, November 20, 2002.
Observer (England), February 19, 1995, p. 32
“Capleton, Lady Saw Take Top JFM Awards,” Jamaica Observer, http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/lifestyle/html/20o10506t230000-0500_7916_obs_capleton__lady_saw_take_top_jfm_awards.asp (October 24, 2002).
“Deejays Sentenced to Do Community Service,” Jamaica Observer, http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/html/2OO10907t200000-0500_13833_obs_deejays_sentenced_to_do_community_service.asp (October 24, 2002).
“Lady Saw and Cecile Coming,” St. Lucia Mirror, http://www.stluciamirroronline.com/2002/mar22/story18.htm (October 24, 2002).
“Lady Saw—The First Lady of Dancehall,” Lady Saw, http://www.ladysaw.net/biography.htm (October 24, 2002).
“Marion Hall and Lady Saw—Two Sides of the Same Coin,” Jamaica Gleaner, http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20021120/ent/ent2.html (November 22, 2002).
—Eve M. B. Hermann
"Lady Saw." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lady-saw
"Lady Saw." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lady-saw