The untimely death of pioneering singjay Tenor Saw in August 1988 affected the Jamaican music scene in a way similar to how the fatal shootings of Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls shocked rock and hip hop fans almost a decade later, writes Nadine White and Orantes Moore.
All four performers are celebrated for breaking new ground in their respective genres, but unlike his US contemporaries (whose music generated millions before they died), Saw never made any real money from his songs, despite recording one solo album and some of the biggest-selling and most-sampled singles in the history of Jamaican music.
Moreover, at the time of his death, he’d only been singing for three years and was still just 21-years-old; far younger than Cobain (27), Shakur (25) or Smalls (24).
However, over the past quarter of a century, two unconfirmed, but continuously repeated alternative accounts have been suggested: (1) after performing at a concert, he got into a dispute with and was subsequently killed by a local event promoter; and (2) he was executed during a drug deal.
The sad truth is; while his impact and influence on contemporary music is incalculable, we’ll probably never know what happened to Saw in the days and hours preceding his death.
Nevertheless, more than 25 years later, his legendary status remains; thanks in large part to this incredible debut LP, produced by his mentor Sugar Minott and Peter ‘Chemist’ Thompson with first-rate contributions from the Riddim Twins Sly and Robbie.
Fever kicks-off with the allegorical anthem Lots of Sign, above and continues with songs covering a wide range of subjects; from love (Shirley Jones) to spirituality (Who’s Gonna Help Me Praise, below).
Saw’s cut to King Jammy’s groundbreaking Sleng Teng rhythm, Pumpkin Belly, is featured along with militant tracks such as Jah Guide and Protect Me and Run Come Call Me, which are both flavoured with smooth melodies, unmistakeably influenced by Minott.
Each of the album’s tracks blend effortlessly into the next, similar to pages on a book with Roll Call (Saw’s first single) and the haunting title track acting as pivotal chapters.
This exceptional body of work features a plethora of timeless classics and is a rare specimen: a dancehall album without filler.
Simply put, Fever is unquestionably one of the finest Jamaican music albums ever recorded and part of the sobering legacy of a hugely talented young musician who was struck down in his prime.