STORY OF THE SONG: Anthony Redrose finds dancehall's digital 'Tempo'

Published: Sunday | June 14, 2009

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Anthony Redrose - File

When Anthony Redrose left Spanish Town with fellow singer Bunny Lie Lie for King Tubbys' Waterhouse studio in 1985, he did not possess much other than the sound system battle cry he had sung in several dances.

And when he got to the famed Firehouse facility on Dromilly Avenue, he got a single chance to get that song out of his head and onto record. Redrose took it and became part of the birth of dancehall's digital sound with Tempo.

A deliberately neutral song, in terms of calling a particular sound system's name, Tempo, was still a stirring declaration of not only quality, but also the willingness to go to musical war:

"Tempo, my God, dis ya soun' in a tempo

Fever, my God dis, ya soun inna fever"

"It was like a song 'bout a sound-clash ting. Is a song me used to sing for the soun' dem an' Tubbys sey mi fi record it. Me a de firs' man record a special an' it go number one across the worl'," Redrose told The Sunday Gleaner. "Me sing it, but me no call no name."

He does, however, drop compliments about the sound's quality and potential to create musical mayhem:

"A little a dis, a little a dat

Listen mi voice through the speaker box

It soun' sweeter, with the echo chamber

Don't you know, we are the danger ..."

Redrose says that Tempo, which utilised a digital beat instead of live musicians, came out before Wayne Smith's Sleng Teng on the King Jammys label, credited with the song and rhythm which launched dancehall into the digital age. "We was the first man sing on a computerise beat. The same man who play Sleng Teng make it," Redrose claims. "It was like him have one of the Fruit of the Loop box," Redrose says, adding that the same kind of beat was then built at the nearby King Jammys studio.

available space

So when he laid down Tempo, the rhythm was bare bones drum and bass, then "Tubbys call Asher to put on the keyboards."

However, actually getting his voice down in the first place was tricky. The beat had taken up all the available space on the four-track tape machine and so Redrose had to sing Tempo live as it was being mixed by 'Professor' to the two-track tape from which the record was cut.

So Redrose had one chance and one chance only. He took it. "Tubbys say if you can voice it straight you can go on the rhythm," Redrose told The Sunday Gleaner. And it's not only his voice on Tempo, although the other does not sing. "(Singer) King Everald was in the background making all those sounds," Redrose said.

"Me get the opportunity an' me no was' it," Redrose said. "Them time me hungry - one pants, one shoes and with this talent."

Tempo hit number one in Jamaica and, naturally, also had a tremendous impact in performance. "The firs' time me do that song was at Fort Clarence. And when I sing that song I surprise to see the forward I get," Redrose said.

It has also lasted throughout the years, as sound systems are not content to have the neutral version in the arsenals. They come to Redrose to have it re-recorded, calling the name of their specific sound system. So Tempo has served two purposes for Redrose, making it as a neutral 45 and then being heavily requested as a 'special'.

"I was just thinking if I do a song that neutral it can play on every sound in the world. I came up with the idea an' do it," Redrose told The Sunday Gleaner.