Wayne Smith: Singer and songwriter who took reggae into the digital era with his worldwide hit 'Under Mi Sleng Teng'

 

The Jamaican singer Wayne Smith took reggae into the digital era with "Under Mi Sleng Teng'', a groundbreaking track that introduced a new, infectious, irresistible "riddim" and pioneered a style of recording built around electronic keyboards.

Co-produced by Prince Jammy and first issued on his Jammy's label in 1985, "Sleng Teng'' became the foundation for the dancehall genre and has been covered, or "versioned", as the Jamaicans would say, close to 400 times, by performers such as Sugar Minott, Johnny Osbourne and Tappa Zukie, and seeped into the rock, rap and pop repertoire of acts like the Prodigy, 50 Cent, Robyn and MIA.

Born in 1965 in Waterhouse, a tough area of Kingston, Smith possessed a distinctive, high tenor voice that brought him to the attention of the dub producer King Tubby and his protégé Jammy in the late 1970s. The teenage Smith trained as an electrical engineer and gained experience on the sound system circuit, singing over dub plates.

He began recording with Jammy in the early '80s, though it took him over a dozen singles before he achieved his breakthrough and created his signature tune. In 1984, Smith and Noel Davey, a local youth who had procured a Casiotone MT-40 keyboard, pushed the "rock'n'roll" preset button on the basic instrument – a rhythm not dissimilar to Eddie Cochran's "Somethin' Else". Smith then started riffing on "Under Mi Sensi", a current hit by Barrington Levy; he warned against the danger of taking cocaine and made the obligatory reference to the more natural herbal "smoke".

When Smith took this simple premise, based on a digitally created bass and rhythm track, to the "next door neighba" referenced in the lyrics – Jammy – the producer spotted its unique quality but found the tempo too frantic. He slowed it down, asked musician Tony Asher to add some piano and percussion, and premiered it at a sound system battle with Black Scorpio in February 1985; it went down a storm.

The canny Jammy rush-released "Sleng Teng" and licensed it to the London-based reggae specialist Greensleeves for international release; he also began cutting versions by Cocoa Tea, Tenor Saw and John Wayne, while King Tubby jumped on the digital bandwagon with "Tempo'' by Anthony Red Rose. "Sleng Teng'' sounded the death knell for the roots reggae genre that relied on session musicians, and paved the way for the emergence of the dancehall and ragga that only needs a programmer/keyboard-player and a vocalist.

Smith scored further hits with "Come Along" and "Ain't No Meaning", again produced by Jammy, but never matched the success of the game-changing "Sleng Teng". In 1989 he moved to New York, where he set up his own Sleng Teng label. He finally made his live European debut in 2011, when he toured with the Little Lion Sound system from Switzerland. Smith was admitted to Kingston Public Hospital with severe stomach pains on 14 February and died of heart failure.

PIERRE PERRONE

Ian "Wayne" Smith, singer and songwriter: born Kingston, Jamaica 5 December 1965; five children; died Kingston 17 February 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine