The “Sleng Teng” riddim revolutionized reggae music in the mid-1980s, and has spawned hundreds of variations in the decades since then. Less correctly known is the legend of how the distinctive bassline originated in a preset sample incorporated on a Casio digital keyboard and the work of a young developer unique out of faculty.
The Casiotone Preset that Kickstarted Jamaican Dancehall
“Under Mi Sleng Teng,” by Jamaican singer Wayne Smith, is one of many milestones in the historic previous of Jamaican standard music. Written by Smith and his friend Noel Davy, the pioneering dancehall classic was made the utilize of a Casio digital keyboard. The song straight grew to alter into a fracture hit when it was released in 1985, and its optimistic digital sound and addictive beat soon took the area by storm.
The rhythm piece has constantly formed the spine of reggae music. In in trend styles, the drums and bass present the distinctive “riddims” or backing over which a DJ or singer overdubs a vocal. It is classic for a gargantuan need of artists to create their possess “variations” (vocal interpretations) of standard riddims, building usual songs round the identical classic rhythmical sample. The “Sleng Teng” riddim, named after the song wherein it was first passe, has now inspired as many as 450 assorted songs. The riddim performed a key role in bringing Jamaican music into the digital technology, and is is knowing as one of many “monster riddims” that ushered in the golden age of the dancehall technology.
At present time, 35 years after the distinctive song was released, the passe version of reggae historic previous holds that the “father” of the riddim was Wayne Smith and his producer on the Jammy’s imprint in Jamaica. If truth be told, the historic previous of the riddim goes succor further than Smith and his collaborators. It was in the beginning a preset rhythm sample programmed into the Casiotone MT-40, released in 1981. It was this preset that Smith and his guests passe because the classic building block for his or her innovative song.
The Casiotone MT-40, which sold for ¥35,000. (Courtesy Okuda Hiroko)
In other phrases, Casio, familiar to tens of millions because the maker of the calculators passe in college rooms and offices round the area, performed midwife to Jamaican digital dancehall. Noteworthy extra remarkably, the preset tune that grew to alter into the Sleng Teng riddim was the work of a young developer who was aloof in her first year with the corporate.
For years, her legend has been the stuff of myth among afficionados of Jamaican music. But diminutive has been known of Okuda’s background, and her face has by no plan looked in media interviews. Now, 40 years on from the distinctive free up of the MT-40, Okuda Hiroko has in the end solid aside her veil of secrecy and consented to an interview.
Okuda Hiroko plays a Casio electrical piano.
Straight out of Tune College
For the length of the 1970s, Casio was one of many leading avid gamers in the “calculator wars” that noticed producers compete for supremacy in the marketplace for desktop calculators. The company’s innovations incorporated the area’s first private calculator (the Casio Mini in 1972) and the area’s first business–card-sized calculator (the Casio Mini Card, in 1978). Then, in the beginning of the 1980s, it branched out into the musical devices business, launching an electrical keyboard with an constructed in speaker (the Casiotone 201) in January 1980.
Okuda joined the corporate three months later, as a brand recent hire straight out of music college. As soon as she accomplished her preliminary coaching, she was discipline to work on preset backing tracks for the MT-40.
A Casiotone 201 on level to in the showroom at Casio head discipline of job. The company’s first digital instrument might perchance perchance reproduce the sounds of 29 assorted musical devices.
Casio wanted to operate devices that will maybe maybe be kindly of offering an automatic accompaniment to musical performances. As a stop-gap measure, the corporate decided to free up mini-keyboards programed with preset rhythm tracks as a steppingstone toward this map. “In the assert department at that point, there were impartial exact four of us from a musical background, all of us recent hires straight out of faculty,” Okuda remembers. “And all people else had studied classical music. I was the handiest one who knew anything else about standard styles.”
In those days the environment for rising digital music was nothing admire as developed as it has change into this day. The MIDI fashioned layout did no longer yet exist. It was mandatory to rework a musical ranking into code, memoir the code onto an ROM, after which inset the memory exact into a specialized machine. Only then might perchance perchance you be conscious of the rhythm sample you had written. It was a laborious, time-drinking activity that supposed lengthy hours of trial and mistake sooner than a sample might perchance perchance very correctly be accomplished, and this made it tense to commission out of doors builders to realize the work.
For this interview, Okuda met us at Casio head discipline of job in Shibuya, however on the total she works out of the corporate’s R&D Middle in Hamura on the outskirts of elevated Tokyo.
The Reggae-Angry Tune Pupil Who Grew to alter into Conception to be one of Casio’s First Tune Builders
Okuda had performed piano since childhood. In heart college, she realized British rock, then in its pomp, and went on to fall in admire with reggae music. “Reggae is on the total agreed to lie on the roots of hip-hop and rap and other forms of DJ music. The music furthermore had a huge influence on British rock. The lyrics had a solid social and political message, however they were performed in this light, breezy trend. I feel about that incompatibility was what attracted me to the music.”
After graduating from a musical high college, Okuda went on to explore at Kunitachi College of Tune. She had no ambitions to alter into a performer herself, as a replace specializing in classic music learn, studying music historic previous and sociology alongside principle and the cohesion that forms the foundations of all musical composition. But the proper focus of her learn was reggae.
This made Okuda one thing of a rarity in Japanese music colleges on the time, where nearly all college students specialized in classical music. “Even my graduation thesis was on reggae. There was no one on the college with the background to portray my thesis, so in the tip they bought a specialist in baroque music to learn it. The professor learn it by and acknowledged, ‘Successfully, it looks to be set together correctly ample.’ And that was ample to enable me to graduate!”
In 1979, whereas Okuda was engaged on ending up her thesis and listening obsessively to reggae music, Bob Marley made his handiest go back and forth to Japan. Okuda went to search several performances. Soon after the concert events, her test was caught by an commercial posted on campus by Casio, which was searching to hire graduates from music colleges for the first time. “I keep in mind the wording on the advert: ‘Builders wanted.’ I knowing, that sounds involving . . .” At the interview, she was given a demonstration of the recent Casio keyboards, which had no longer yet long previous on sale, and was impressed by how correctly they were made and the aptitude of electrical devices. But the decisive thing that swayed her in her need of profession was the corporate’s world imaginative and prescient.
The musical devices department was headed by Kashio Toshio, 2d oldest of the four Kashio brothers who founded the corporate. Identified because the inventor of the area’s first compact digital calculator, Toshio furthermore had a deep hobby in rising musical devices, and was driven by the ambition of “bringing the pleasure of playing a musical instrument to all people.”
Having majored in music, and with a admire of Western styles and a solid hobby in rising musical devices, Okuda was convinced that the job was a ideal match.
Okuda for the length of her first six months at Casio, impartial exact sooner than she started work on rising tracks for the MT-40. (Courtesy Okuda Hiroko)
From Preset Rhythm to Dancehall Riddim
Soon after becoming a member of Casio, Okuda was discipline to work on samples to be used as preset backing tracks on the corporate’s recent keyboards. She labored on rising rhythm patterns for six assorted genres of music, including “rock,” “pop,” and “samba” styles, and bass traces for every trend that will maybe maybe match with three classic chord kinds (foremost, minor, and seventh chords), as correctly two additional possess-in patterns to be passe on the tip of verses and other pivotal moments in songs.
What grew to alter into the Sleng Teng riddim was in the beginning supposed as a “rock” rhythm. Why did this rock beat change into so correctly-preferred by Jamaican musicians? Okuda says: “In those days, my head was fleshy of reggae. Even after I was attempting to near up with a rock beat, I feel about it impartial exact naturally came out as one thing that will maybe maybe work in reggae as correctly.”
There were all kinds of constraints in phrases of the forms of sounds and need of notes that can even very correctly be passe. The preset patterns might perchance perchance handiest utilize drum and bass sounds, and additionally they were diminutive to a measurement of two bars. These boundaries supposed programmers might perchance perchance no longer add worthy diversity to the drum sound, and the foremost focus grew to alter into the assert of the bass line.
The preset buttons on the Casiotone MT-40. The need of switches was diminutive, which made selecting and the utilize of the presets much less than straightforward. Noel Denny remembered having “lost the rhythm” at one stage for the length of the songwriting activity.
Amongst music followers, there might perchance be a in trend perception that the Sleng Teng bassline was derived from Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else” or a song by the Intercourse Pistols, however Okuda denies having had any particular recording in mind. “I did passe to be conscious of masses of British rock, so I’m decided there must had been songs that influenced me. But if truth be told, the bassline was one thing I came up with myself. It wasn’t basically basically based fully on another tune.”
Okuda says she did no longer bask in reggae in mind namely when she came up with the bassline, though she admits that she did strive to create a sample that will maybe maybe be straightforward to “toast” over. In Jamaican music, “toasting” is the practice of dubbing a vocal line over a recorded rhythm tune—one thing that has had a decisive influence on the assert of rap and DJ styles. Okuda remembers that she tried no longer to overcomplicate the bassline by including too many notes, and means that this simplicity made it straightforward for musicians to operate their possess preparations, besides rising it fine to the characteristic off-beat chords of reggae-influenced forms of music.
A Belated Discovery
Casio’s recent musical instrument business bought off to a flying commence. The recent keyboards were released and sold correctly round the area. Okuda realized herself engaged on a entire lot of trend projects straight away, and started to lose contact with doubtlessly the newest traits in Jamaican music. Despite the truth that she heard from the sales department that the MT-40 was selling correctly in Central and South American markets, she says it by no plan took place to her to have confidence that this would maybe need anything else to realize with Jamaica.
It was when she learn the August 1986 edition of Japan’s Tune Journal that she realized a chunk of writing with the title “The Sleng Teng Flood,” describing how the Casiotone preset rhythm was intriguing a slew of most recent songs. As she learn on, and noticed the preset described in the fragment, Okuda realized for the first time that the “rock” bassline she had written for the Casiotone keyboard had change into a sensation round the area.
She straight went out and sold a duplicate of the “Under Mi Sleng Teng” single. “There it was, loud and decided: it was positively the preset rhythm phase from the Casiotone. I’d trend of been ready for it, besides, I was stunned to search out that the intro to the song even passe the possess-in preset we’d programmed into the keyboards.” At the identical time, she says it one plan or the other made sense.
“At the time I came up with the phase, I was paying consideration to reggae your entire time, and had even written my graduation thesis on the music. And now people in Jamaica, where the music was a phase of people’s day-to-day lives, had realized my rhythm and introduced it on board as phase of their music. It had took discipline on legend of Casio was an export-oriented company that had started to operate musical devices, and had been daring ample to present a brand recent employee admire me, straight out of faculty, the accountability for rising with these aspects. In that sense, it wasn’t a entire accident. In a trend, it felt nearly inevitable.”
Okuda at work at Casio’s Hamura R&D Focal level on the time she realized of the Sleng Teng craze her preset rhythm had inspired. (Courtesy of Okuda Hiroko)
Despite the truth that her rhythm had created a sensation round the area, this recordsdata did no longer change Okuda’s day-to-day life at Casio. The company’s mainstream business persevered to be digital calculators. Subsequent to that, the musical devices business was a sideline. And even supposing an employee might perchance perchance beget praise for inventing a patent-a hit recent technology, intriguing a digital revolution in music and serving to to create a brand recent cultural phenomenon was no longer even handed mighty within the corporate. And Okuda herself was too busy, immersed in her work on recent merchandise, to bask in worthy time to have confidence such things. If she on occasion noticed a mention of the Sleng Teng craze in a journal article, she might perchance perchance feel a secret flush of pride at her possess contribution, however that was all.
Some people knowing that Okuda and Casio must sue for infringement of their copyright. But the corporate believed it was extra well-known for people to make utilize of the keyboards in their music and create a reputation for the Casiotone keyboards round the area. Okuda wanted people to make utilize of the Casiotone to create music and hoped the keyboards would create it more straightforward for people round the area to create their possess recordings. Even this day, musicians and memoir company representatives most regularly explore that the Sleng Teng riddim was in the beginning an MT-40 preset and call Casio for permission to make utilize of the file. The retort is continually that the preset bassline is free for someone to make utilize of: impartial exact credit the source and acknowledge that the tune “uses a sound file taken from a Casio MT-40.”
As Okuda likes to exclaim: “If I will give succor even slightly bit of what reggae has given me over the years, nothing might perchance perchance create me happier.”
The usual “MT-40 riddim” is installed in the recent model of the Casiotone Mini-keyboard SA-76, allowing customers to be conscious of and utilize the classic “rock” preset sample. (Courtesy Casio)
Letting All people Abilities the Pleasure of Taking part in an Instrument
At present time, Okuda is pouring her energies as a developer exact into a brand recent technology known as “Tune Tapestry,” which analyzes a performer’s contact on the keyboard and the tone of the fragment and uses this recordsdata to create an image in proper time, come what might perchance ensuing in a accomplished art work on the tip of the performance. Okuda says she likes the postulate that even people which bask in by no plan performed the piano might perchance perchance very correctly be inspired to contact the keys and search what trend of record results. She hopes the recent technology will help extra people than ever to glean enjoyment from music. The philosophy of Casio’s founder aloof drives all her work: the dream of setting up it you might perchance also place confidence in for all people to abilities the pleasure of playing a musical instrument.
“That the rhythm I made for the MT-40 spread round the area and is aloof cherished this day by so many individuals is one of many enormous joys of my life. It’s upright up there with the happiness I felt when my young people were born. In musical phrases, I’ve by no plan been in a predicament to high that first baby! But there are aloof hundreds recent ways wherein digital devices can help performers round the area, even this day.”
Okuda’s work as a developer goes on, striving to produce the tools to inspire recent music and further innovations in musical cultures round the area.
The art work created on the tip of a demonstration performance the utilize of the Tune Tapestry technology. A huge diversity of shiny creations shall be seen on the authentic Instagram page for the recent technology. (Courtesy Casio)
(Originally revealed in Japanese on January 3, 2022. All pictures and video by Nippon.com, unless otherwise correctly-known.)
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