One need look no further than Augustus Pablo when it comes to reggae music heaviness. In his deepest recordings from the 1970s lies the murky soul of Jamaican music. The riddims he dropped underneath his melodica and keyboard lines remain cornerstones of
groove, while he is also responsible for producing what is considered by many to be the greatest dub album of all time.
Pablo was born Horace Swaby in Jamaica in 1954. By his teens, he and his brother had established the Rockers sound system in their neighborhood of Havendale. As a result, the local record store, Aquarius, run by noted producer Herman Chin-Loy, became a haunt for Swaby’s record-buying excursions. As fate would have it, he strolled in with a melodica—a part recorder, part keyboard instrument made from cheap plastic—one day in 1971. Chin-Loy took Swaby into the studio and cut the instrumental “East Of The River Nile,” among other titles. Chin-Loy, who had already been using the mysterious name Augustus Pablo, an imaginary figure often credited on his Aquarius productions, then turned the moniker over to Swaby.
By the mid-’70s, Pablo was digging into Jamaica’s subsoil and sifting out the most intense bottom end the island would ever hear. His productions were sharp and his melodic sense was unusual. He often used vocalists such as Hugh Mundell and Junior Delgado, and he utilized King Tubby’s studio for his “version” sides.
The 1976 LP King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown is recognized as the most fruitful result of this collaboration. While this is Pablo’s production and his keyboard work is all over it, Errol T. (Thompson) and Tubby’s mix help make this album dub’s defining moment. Vocals jump out for single echoed words before fading into the background or disappearing altogether, while reverb and odd phasings pull instruments in and out of the mix at unlikely moments, giving the bass the lead.
East Of The River Nile (1978), while not a dub album, was Pablo’s first self-produced instrumental set, and has also been recognized as the manifestation of the “Middle Eastern” overtones he’d explored with Chin-Loy.
While Pablo’s classic period will always be considered the ’70s, he continued to cut solid records into the ’90s. Always frail, Pablo was diabetic and sought treatment of Rasta healers rather than doctors. Longtime cancer suffering and a rare nerve disease
finally led to his demise in 1999.
East Of The River Nile (Shanachie)
Original Rockers (Shanachie)
King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (Shanachie)