The Casiotone Preset that Kickstarted Jamaican Dancehall
“Under Mi Sleng Teng,” by Jamaican singer Wayne Smith, is one of the milestones in the history of Jamaican popular music. Written by Smith and his friend Noel Davey, the pioneering dancehall classic was made using a Casio electronic keyboard. The song immediately became a smash hit when it was released in 1985, and its optimistic digital sound and addictive beat soon took the world by storm.
The rhythm section has always formed the backbone of reggae music. In modern styles, the drums and bass provide the distinctive “riddims” or backing over which a DJ or singer overdubs a vocal. It is common for numerous artists to make their own “versions” (vocal interpretations) of popular riddims, building original songs around the same basic rhythmical pattern. The “Sleng Teng” riddim, named after the song in which it was first used, has now inspired as many as 450 different songs. The riddim played a key role in bringing Jamaican music into the digital era, and is known as one of the “monster riddims” that ushered in the golden age of the dancehall era.
Today, 35 years after the original song was released, the conventional version of reggae history holds that the “father” of the riddim was Wayne Smith and his producer at the Jammy’s label in Jamaica. In fact, the history of the riddim goes back further than Smith and his collaborators. It was originally a preset rhythm pattern programmed into the Casiotone MT-40, released in 1981. It was this preset that Smith and his friends used as the basic building block for their revolutionary song.