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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
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

SAP Assessor

£26000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: SAP Assessor Job T...

Year 6 Teacher needed for 1 Term- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Year 6 larger then life teach...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering