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Augustus Pablo

Augustus Pablo (1953-1999) biography:

Born as Horace Swaby, 1953, St. Andrew, Jamaica, West Indies. Died 18 May 1999, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies. Pablo was responsible for putting the humble melodica on the musical map when one day in 1969 he walked into Herman Chin-Loy 's Aquarius Records shop clutching the instrument and was taken down to Randy's studio the following day to cut his first record, 'Iggy Iggy'. His next release for the same producer was the prototype 'Far East' sound of 'East Of The River Nile'. Moving from Chin-Loy to Clive Chin as his new producer at Randy's, the next single, 'Java', proved to be Pablo's biggest, and one of his most influential. Chin later worked on the classic instrumental set, This Is Augustus Pablo, on which Pablo played a number of lead keyboard instruments. He worked with other producers at this time, cutting 'Lovers Mood' for Leonard Chin, 'Hot And Cold' with Lee Perry and others for Gussie Clarke, Keith Hudson and Bunny Lee. Dissatisfied with the financial and artistic arrangements with the producers, Pablo set up his own label named Rockers, after the sound system he and his brother Garth operated. His first releases were a mixture of new versions of old Studio One rhythms; 'Skanking Easy' (from 'Swing Easy') and 'Frozen Dub' (from 'Frozen Soul'), plus original compositions 'Cassava Piece', '555 Crown Street' and 'Pablo's Theme Song'. King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown is regarded by many as one of the finest dub albums of all time. It contains dubwise versions of most of Pablo's productions mixed by the legendary independent studio engineer King Tubby . Other artists have benefitted from Pablo's skills as a producer, notably Jacob Miller, Hugh Mundell and Tetrack.

Pablo was also in demand as a session musician and played on countless recordings throughout the 70s. East Of The River Nile in 1978 remains his most compelling instrumental set after This Is Augustus Pablo. On this release, Pablo and his Rockers All Stars band, featuring guitarist Earl 'Chinna' Smith, created vast landscapes of rhythmic sound awash with Pablo's string synthesizer and melodica. The sound bore the unmistakable production stamp of Lee Perry's Black Ark studios.

The early 80s saw Pablo floundering somewhat in the early throes of the dancehall revolution, though he later rallied with his production of Junior Delgado 's 'Raggamuffin Year' single and album in 1986. Since then he has released a number of recordings with varying degrees of artistic success, both of his own music and that of artists such as Yammie Bolo, Icho Candy, Delroy Williams, Norris Reid and Blacka T. Ironically, he has managed to adapt to the new computerised technology that many of his fans blame for what they see as the decline in musicianship in reggae music in the 80s and 90s. A withdrawn slip of a man, often in ill-health, Pablo's music has, at its best, always reflected a humility and inner peace. Although most critics agree his influential and commercially successful period was over by the end of the 70s, his most recent instrumental set, Blowing With The Wind,was his best since East Of The River Nile, and belies criticisms of artistic demise.

Augustus Pablo died in May 1999. The cause of death was myasthenia gravis, a nerve disorder, said his brother, Garth Swaby. Pablo had been very ill long, and it was said that he refused to undergo treatment for his ailments. (When Pablo came to Paris in 1998, he was already too sick to perform, vomiting all evening long backstage while his band played to an angry crowd which was unaware of what was going on backstage and on top of that did not get refunded.) Nevertheless, his music and legend will live on in the hearts of all music lovers.

Encyclopedia of Popular Music Copyright Muze UK Ltd. 1989 - 1998,
with additional notes by ER, 1999.

Obituary from The New York Times, 20 May 1999


Augustus Pablo, a widely influential reggae producer, died on Tuesday at University Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. He was 46 and lived in the hills outside Kingston. The cause was myasthenia gravis, a nerve disorder, said his brother, Garth Swaby. Mr. Pablo, whose original name was Horace Swaby, was known for what he called the ''Far East sound'': haunting, minor-key tunes with sparse lines for melodica (a harmonica with a keyboard) floating above deep bass lines and echoing keyboards. He was an architect of dub reggae, music in which deep bass lines and dizzying echo effects envelop a few shards of melody.

Born in Kingston in 1953, he became a Rastafarian while still a teen-ager; he also taught himself to play piano. Bob Marley brought him into the studio to play keyboards on early Wailers recordings, and he began working regularly as a session musician in the late 1960's. He joined the house band at Randy's Studio, a leading Kingston studio.

A friend introduced him to the melodica, and he took it into the studio when he had his first recording sessions as a leader in 1969 with the producer Herman Chin-Loy. His first single, ''Iggy Iggy,'' was credited to Augustus Pablo, a name Mr. Chin-Loy used for instrumentals. When Mr. Adams moved to the United States in 1971, he left the Pablo name to Mr. Swaby. With his next single, ''East of the River Nile,'' Mr. Swaby as Augustus Pablo inaugurated the Far East sound, and he followed it with his first major Jamaican hit, ''Java,'' in 1972. While making solo recordings, often reworkings of past and present hits, he was also in demand as a studio musician, and he worked for a dozen leading Jamaican producers in the early 70's. In 1972 he started running his own labels, including Hot Stuff, Rockers International, Yard and Message. Mr. Pablo produced recordings for singers, notably Junior Delgado, Jacob Miller and Hugh Mundell, and he released instrumentals under his own name.

Those instrumentals are cornerstones of modern dub reggae, particularly those he recorded in the mid-70's, including the albums ''King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown'' (a 1976 album of Pablo instrumentals remixed by the engineer and producer King Tubby) and ''East of the River Nile'' from 1978.

Mr. Pablo rarely toured; his milieu was the recording studio. He had hits in Jamaica as Junior Delgado's producer in the mid-80's, and he continued releasing his own instrumental recordings well into 90's, adding digital technology to his older style.

In addition to his brother, he is survived by his companion, Karen Scott; a son, Addis; a daughter, Isis; a sister, Claudia Swaby McBean, and his mother, Buelah Swaby.

See also:

Augustus Pablo
Trouser Press entry on Augustus Pablo
Augustus Pablo @ AMG
The Dub Directory (with some Augustus Pablo info)
Augustus Pablo Discography

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