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Wayne Smith track sends Lyceum wild

Published:Sunday | April 12, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
David Rodigan (left), Barry G (centre) and Rory.
David Rodigan

The decade before the Sleng Teng riddim was made, Bob Marley and The Wailers played concerts at the Lyceum in London that were recorded and released as the Live album. By 1985, Bob Marley had been dead for four years and a beat had come out of Jamaica that was to take the sound of the loudest island in the world even further from the roots reggae live instruments format.

However, Bob Marley and The Wailers' Live and Wayne Smith's Under Me Sleng Teng, had something in common - the latter debuted to a live audience at the Lyceum and David Rodigan, who first played the Sleng Teng in England, said it drove the audience wild.

Rodigan, who plays on radio and sound system, was honoured at the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) Honour Awards in February.

Jammy sent a copy of Under Me Sleng Teng to Rodigan in England, which he received on a Saturday night. He played it on Capitol Radio and, Rodigan told The Sunday Gleaner, "I heard it, it absolutely blew me away."

"There was something about that single, the way it was produced and the vocals, how it was structured. It was almost like a rock rhythm ... . It had this crazy energy with it."

The 'Sleng Teng' experience was amplified at the Lyceum the following day when there was an all-day event. Rodigan played the record and "the place went crazy", he told The Sunday Gleaner. "I can't remember how many times it was pulled up." What made it all the more remarkable, Rodigan emphasised, was that the song was completely new.

Rodigan went on to have much more extensive contact with the Sleng Teng riddim, going up against Barrington 'Barry G' Gordon on JBC radio that year in an encounter where the Sleng Teng featured heavily. "We had a clash that is still called the Sleng Teng clash," Rodigan said. Barry G called the Half-Way Tree Police Station and had a policeman spin the coin to decide who played first and "we played for God knows how long - 40 minutes to an hour."

"He stuck it to me that night. He took the Sleng Teng part hands down," Rodigan said, singling out an Echo Minott special and an introduction in which Rodigan was told that he could not get any specials as Barry G had already cut them all.

Looking back 30 years at his introduction to the Sleng Teng riddim, Rodigan said, "I can remember it like yesterday. It set England on fire. No one had done a track like that before."


fiery eyes


Neither can he forget being with Barry G in the lobby of The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston, and being approached by a renowned musician who was far from impressed by their extensive playing of the Sleng Teng. Rodigan said he told them they should be ashamed of playing the beat, as there was no musicianship - or no musicians - in it. "The look in his eye was quite fiery," Rodigan said.

There was also a Jamaican phone-in radio show on which Rodigan was castigated for the Sleng Teng. A caller said reggae died when the Sleng Teng was born, that the birth of Sleng Teng and digital music killed reggae.

However, Rodigan points out, So Jah Seh, on Bob Marley and The Wailers' 1974 Natty Dread album, as an example of a song in which there is a mechanical sound. He thinks that it may have been something like a metronome, which had been part of Lee 'Scratch' Perry's collection.

His favourite three tracks on the Sleng Teng riddim are Under Me Sleng Teng (Wayne Smith), Pumpkin Belly (Tenor Saw) and Buddy Bye (Tenor Saw). And Rodigan knows a sound system selector named Mikey from the German town of Augsberg, Germany, whose fascination with the Sleng Teng goes deep.

"If he does not have them (Sleng Teng) tracks all, he is probably close to having them all," Rodigan said.