Today, as part of our Reggae Month Feature, The Gleaner continues its series on persons who contributed to Jamaican popular music who died in February. Last week we looked back at former Third World lead singer, William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clarke. Today it is the turn of Wayne Smith, whose marijuana ode, Under Mi Sleng Teng, gave part of its name to the riddim which truly ushered in the digital age of Jamaican popular music in 1985.
Wayne ‘Sleng Teng’ Smith died at the Kingston Public Hospital on February 17, 2014. He was 48 years old. Producer Lloyd James, on whose King Jammys label the Sleng Teng riddim was released, told The Gleaner, “it is a great loss for us because he is part of the foundation.”
The foundation Smith is part of is more widespread than a single riddim, as prolific as it was at its inception with its title cut, Buddy Bye (Johnny Osbourne), Pumpkin Belly (Tenor Saw), Call The Police (John Wayne), and Jamming in the Streets (Sugar Minott), among many others.
The Sleng Teng riddim marked the beginning of widespread use of computerised methods to create Jamaican popular music instead of actual instruments. this, in turn, opened up access to music production – for better or worse.
In 2011, Smith told The Gleaner that after the Sleng Teng riddim was laid and it was time for him to add vocals, “is one take. Me never stop. All the lyrics me sing me never sing them before. Is after me sing it me know what the term (Sleng Teng) is. Me sing ‘look inna me eye, red like blood‘. Me say all right, a weed.” However, he said, there were some doubters who discouraged King Jammy from putting it out.
Smith pleaded with the producer and sound system owner to do so, and “him say all right, him have a dance the same night.”
He did not go to the session at which King Jammy’s sound system played, but he got the feedback very early the next morning.
“People come wake me up a morning, 6 o’clock. Them say ‘Wayne, nothing more couldn’t play after them put on Sleng Teng’,” he said. When he went back to the studio, there were no more doubts about the Sleng Teng riddim. “People line up fe voice pon it, all who say it no good,” Smith said.
Selector and radio broadcaster David Rodigan told The Gleaner he played Under Mi Sleng Teng at the Lyceum in London, introducing a new song, “and the place went crazy. I can’t remember how many times it was ‘pulled up’.”