Casio Music UK, one of the world’s most renowned producers of musical instruments, has revealed the first worldwide radio interview with legendary employee Okuda Hiroko who developed the revolutionary “Sleng Teng” riddim preset rhythm pattern, programmed on the Casiotone MT-40, released in 1981. The unique bassline developed by Hiroko was named after the song in which it was first used – by Wayne Smith’s “Under Mi Sleng Teng”, released in 1985. It laid the foundation for many reggae songs that we love today, playing a key role in bringing Jamaican music into the digital era and ushered in the golden age of the dancehall era. For over 40 years, Hiroko chose to have her name and face veiled from the public but has finally broken her silence with her first worldwide radio interview with BBC Outlook.
Okuda came to Casio Music in 1980, straight out of music college where she was tasked with developing the MT-40 Casiotone keyboard and in particular, to work on preset backing tracks. Her influence for the “Sleng Teng” riddim, she says, did not come from a single source or genre of music – she used to play piano as a young girl and discovered a passion for British rock whilst studying – but reggae was the one she was truly obsessed with. In a time where most Japanese students specialised in classical music, Okuda wrote her final thesis on reggae to graduate from college.
Fast forward to post-release of the MT-40 keyboard, it wasn’t until some time later that Hiroko read an article about how its bassline preset had become a sensation in Jamaica. She immediately bought the ‘Under Mi Sleng Teng’ album and was surprised to hear her own creation in all its glory, loud and clear. Okuda takes great pride in her contribution to reggae and says it makes her happy that her ‘riddim’ is loved by so many around the world to this day.
Commenting on her love for reggae music within the BBC interview, Okuda said: “Back then, to my ear reggae sounded like the most powerful music as a genre and I wanted to know why it sounds so powerful, at least to me. Then I did a lot of research into the music and then I learnt about this aspect of sending a message to the listeners, and the philosophy behind a reggae musician’s way of thinking. And that’s how I became an even bigger fan of the music.”
When asked about the “Sleng Teng” trend in Jamaica, Okuda Hiroko commented: “In 1986 I read in a Japanese magazine talking about ‘Sleng Teng’, and how this music might be the saviour of this music genre reggae, and I felt like quite emotional in a sense, so the music I loved, which is reggae, and this musician in Jamaica discovered the sample I made and they started a new culture. In a way, it’s kind of like a boomerang returning back, flying back to me. So I was really thankful for them having used my sample.”
She also added within the interview: “I’d say I am a very happy developer, because it’s not so often that as a developer you create a product and create a new culture because of that. I am proud, very much so.”
Since the release of Casio’s first ever keyboard in 1980, the musical instrument provider has helped shape some era-defining records. Not only did it influence the birth of digital reggae via the Casiotone MT-40, but its MT-500 played a pivotal role in the creation of Pulp’s iconic song ‘Common People’ in the 1990s. Throughout Casio’s history its instruments made their way into the production set ups of influential artists such as Fat Boy Slim, Blur, Beck, Nine Inch Nails, and many more. Fast forward to today in 2022 and the highly anticipated release of the CT-S1000V with its unique vocoder is set to inspire a whole new generation of musicians and the next big hit.