Keeping the Pablo playin’: A five track introduction to Addis and Augustus Pablo

Some names have become synonymous with reggae music over the years: Marley, Riley and Pablo are but three that call to mind era-defining roots, rocksteady and dub recordings.

Augustus Pablo was initially a production pseudonym, shared between Horace Swaby, Herman Chin-Loy of Aquarius records and his session keyboardists. But as Swaby’s own reputation grew – his distinctive melodica tones and magical dub treatments becoming increasingly widespread – he alone assumed the identity. The ‘Rockers’ name, that had once belonged to his and his brother’s soundsystem, became his label and record shop on Orange Street. He forged relationships with Big Youth, King Tubby and others, thus creating what are considered to be some of dub’s definitive records.

So when his son Addis – raised in a household where music and Rastafarian values were significant – decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, it was fitting that the Pablo name continue with the music. He makes it his mission to play the melodica with the same conviction and skill as his father, keeping his great music alive and contributing to the Rockers legacy with strong musical contributions of his own. Ahead of Addis Pablo & The Uppercut Band’s performance at Band on the Wall on 19th April, here are five heavy numbers to introduce the sound of Rockers, Addis and Augustus.

Augustus Pablo – King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown

When Augustus Pablo, vocalist Jacob Miller and their fellow musicians convened for sessions at Randy’s studio in Kingston, they would lay down the components for some of reggae music’s most enduring tracks. In 1974, a single featuring Miller’s Baby I Love You So and a dub cut called King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown was released, representing the first of this incredible yield. The flip-side dub not only demonstrates the genius of Pablo, his musicians and dub as a production approach, it also sets the tone and establishes the concept for an album of the same name, which would follow two years later. On King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, you hear Miller’s ‘Baby I…’ vocal phrase jostling with effervescent hi-hats, cannoning snare strikes and escalating melodica lines – but somehow maintaining equilibrium. The dynamics of the soundscape are so cutting-edge, that they still sound engaging today. The track is a crowning triumph as well as a perfect introduction to Augustus: the melodica player and producer.

Herman Chin-Loy – Heavy Duty

Chin-Loy and Augustus Pablo collaborated frequently prior to Rockers taking off and on this cut, which features The Now Generation band, are at their very best. Again recorded at Randy’s Studio, it’s a stark contrast from King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown. The soundscape is more spacious, with the core rhythm responsible for almost all of the heavy lifting! Augustus Pablo makes uncredited melodica and keyboard contributions to the album from which this cut hails, suggesting how his early studio experiences and collaborations with Chin-Loy might have informed his later productions.

Addis Pablo – Road to Addis

Having learned from the music of his father, Addis Pablo plays the melodica with flare and conviction. In place of a vocalist, his sweet melodies carry Road to Addis from beginning to end. The production is a clean and fresh take on the gritty dub his father and his peers created during the early seventies, but one which nonetheless, has an edge and bite to it!

Augustus Pablo – East of the Nile

The title track from Pablo’s incredible 1978 album is significant for a number of reasons, but mostly as a musical representation of his connections to Ethiopia and the landscape and culture of Northeast Africa, via his Rastafarian faith. Its use of an Ethiopian geez scale and its quick tempo relate it to certain North African music styles, while Pablo’s EQ’ed organ lines resemble those of famous Ethiopian keys players like Hailu Mergia. Few reggae producers in the seventies achieved musical fusions as captivating as this – another reason why Pablo ranks highly for many fans of Jamaican music.

Addis Pablo – Addis Conference

Though mindful of roots styles and instrumentation, Addis is unafraid to change the music with the times. Addis Conference trades Fender bass for growling low end synths and loose drum rhythms for motorical patterns, yet still retains the essence of dub music. Addis has collaborated with Equiknoxx as well as reggae elders like Slyford Walker, showing an ability to have on ear on the past and another on the present – crucial for the relevance of a modern artist.