Lionel Augustus Martin, better known by his stage name, Saxa, was a renowned saxophonist whose distinctive sound played a pivotal role in shaping the British ska revival of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Born on January 5, 1930, in Croft’s Hill, Jamaica, Saxa’s journey in music was defined by his profound influence on ska music, a genre that amalgamates elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues.
In his early years, Saxa cut his teeth performing with renowned Jamaican musicians, including Desmond Dekker and Prince Buster. These experiences grounded him in the fundamentals of ska, fostering his distinctive style that would later become his trademark.
Saxa’s career took a turn when he moved to the UK in the early 1960s. In the late 1970s, he joined the Coventry-based band, The Beat (known in North America as The English Beat), a group at the forefront of the Two-Tone ska revival movement. Here, his prowess as a saxophonist truly came to the fore.
With The Beat, Saxa’s saxophone performances became emblematic of the group’s sound. His powerful and melodic solos, reminiscent of Jamaican ska, were key elements in tracks like “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Tears of a Clown,” and “Hands Off She’s Mine.” His performances didn’t just embellish the songs; they elevated the band’s music, fusing elements of traditional ska with new wave and punk influences.
Saxa’s ability to bridge the gap between traditional Jamaican ska and the burgeoning British punk scene played a significant role in The Beat’s success and the popularity of the Two-Tone movement. His contributions were not only integral to the band’s unique sound but also influential in the broader musical landscape of the time.
Despite being significantly older than his bandmates, Saxa’s youthful energy and passion for music were infectious. His persona and performances had a profound impact on the band’s dynamism, contributing significantly to the lively and distinctive character of The Beat’s live performances.
After the disbandment of The Beat in 1983, Saxa continued to perform with various iterations of the band, including The International Beat and The New English Beat. He retired from touring in the 1990s but continued to be a respected figure in the world of ska and beyond.
Saxa passed away on May3, 2017, leaving behind a legacy as one of ska’s most influential and charismatic performers. His contributions to music, particularly within the realm of ska and the Two-Tone movement, continue to resonate with saxophonists and music lovers worldwide.
Page last updated 7/4/2023.