Wayne smith, trailblazer

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

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THE history of pop music is dotted by artistes defined by one song. Wayne Smith falls in that category.

Smith, whose massive 1984 hit Under Mi Sleng Teng marked the dawn of dancehall's digital era, died Monday at the Kingston Public Hospital at age 48. Tidel Smith, one of his five children, said his father was admitted there last Friday after suffering severe stomach pains.

Smith's health improved briefly by Sunday, giving his family hope of a full recovery. On Monday, his condition deteriorated and he died shortly after noon, his son said.

The Waterhouse-born Smith had lived in New York City for several years, producing songs for his Sleng Teng label. He returned to Jamaica last year and settled in Mandeville.

Smith was part of Waterhouse's rich musical heritage. Grammy-winning roots group Black Uhuru, the Wailing Souls and Junior Reid are from that gritty Kingston community which is also home to the legendary studio of producer Lloyd 'King Jammy's' James.

It was James who first 'voiced' Smith in 1980 when he was just 14 years old. Four years later, he produced Under Mi Sleng Teng which revolutionised the Jamaican music landscape, and signalled dancehall's digital age.

Tinkering on a cheap Casio keyboard, Smith and Waterhouse musician Noel Davey came up with the original Sleng Teng pattern. They took their experimental beat to James who brought in session musician Tony Asher to fine-tune its sound.

Under Mi Sleng Teng, Smith's homage to the 'good herb' was the first song done on the sizzling jam. On Monday, James recalled its early impact.

"Wi sen' it out on the sound system an' people love it so wi release it in late '84," James said. Wi put it out abroad in early '85 an' it tek off."

The top artistes of the day jumped on the Sleng Teng 'riddim'. But it was emerging artistes like singers Tenor Saw Pumpkin Belly, Anthony Red Rose Under Mi Fat Thing and deejay John Wayne Call The Police who scored the biggest hits.

Red Rose's version was produced by dub visionary Osbourne 'King Tubby' Ruddock, for whom Davey had done a version of the Sleng Teng. Now a producer, Red Rose said the Sleng Teng changed the format of Jamaican recording studios.

"Up to dat time everybody use to lick live riddim, but after Sleng Teng one man coulda do everything. It was good fi a producer in terms of economics but in a lotta cases it hurt the quality."

The Sleng Teng also had a big influence on keyboardist Wycliffe Johnson and drummer Cleveland Browne who were members of singer Freddie McGregor's Studio One band when Smith's song was climbing the charts.

Working out of James' studio in the 1990s, they recorded some of the biggest hits of the digital age as Steely and Clevie.

Wayne Smith continued to record for James. He had two dancehall hits with Come Along and Ain't No Meaning in Saying Goodbye but was forever associated with Under Mi Sleng Teng.

Funeral arrangements for Wayne 'Sleng Teng' Smith will be announced after an autopsy to determine the cause of his death is done.

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