The Mystic World of Augustus Pablo: The Rockers Story
4 CD Boxset + DVD
July 28, 2008
from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)|
|Vocals : 4/5||Backing : 5||Production : 5||Sound quality : 4/5||Sleeve : 5|
Augustus Pablo -real name Horace Swaby- the man who helped to change the spirit of reggae music during the 70s, was without doubt dub's greatest instrumentalist. He was the first person to use the melodica as a viable musical instrument in reggae music. When he passed away on May 18, 1999, the reggae community lost one of its most creative and devoted artists. Augustus Pablo will be remembered as the somewhat frail-looking Rastaman, who made an amazing contribution to roots reggae both as a melodica/keyboards player and as a producer with an immediately recognizable style. In the hearts of his many worldwide fans he definitely will live on as "Augustus Pablo - The Original Rocker".
The legend began in 1969 when a youthful Horace Swaby was standing in Herman Chin-Loy's 'Aquarius' record shop at 9 Constant Spring Road in Kingston, holding a melodica that had been lent to him by a young girl. The instrument was used in Jamaica in school music lessons but had never before been taken seriously by professional musicians. Herman Chin-Loy, who had a much-deserved reputation for experimenting with new sounds, asked the slightly-built teenager if he could play it and was so taken with the musical response that he booked recording time that same week at Randy's Studio 17 on North Parade in the heart of downtown Kingston. With a tune entitled Iggy Iggy Herman Chin-Loy gave the youth his recording debut and more significantly, a new name - Augustus Pablo - which was not strictly new itself as for the past few months Aquarius record labels had sporadically appeared bearing the credit Augustus Pablo.
Herman Chin-Loy had coined the name to add a measure of mystic to the identity of keyboard players. These recordings actually feature Lloyd Charmers or the Upsetters' organist Glen Adams. The seeds of what was to become the minor-key dominated "Far East" sound of the future Augustus Pablo/Rockers team were sown. The follow-up was another instrumental - the first cut of East Of River Nile - with Pablo alternating rudimentary but spooky solos on melodica and organ over a jagged riddim. At the age of eighteen Augustus Pablo had his first hit at Randy's for Clive Chin's 'Impact' imprint with "Java" and he soon established himself through his releases on his own "Hot Stuff" and legendary 'Rockers' label (so named because the records were promoted on his brother Garth's fledging Rockers Sound-system). Following the release of Skanking Easy - an update of the Studio One Soul Vendors' classic 'Swing Easy' - Augustus Pablo was soon a leading light in the upcoming band of "rebel" artists and independent producers such as Lee "Scratch" Perry, Winston "Niney" Holness and Glen Brown who were to radically and irreversibly re-define the parameters of reggae music.
Augustus Pablo was constantly setting new standards, searching for new ideas. His productions, distinctive as they already were by his "Far Eastern" style of playing, became as individual by their arrangements as, say, Coxsone's or Upsetter's were by theirs. The way in which the riddims were mixed was also important to Pablo. In common with Vivian Jackson, Lee Perry, Bunny Lee and several others he employed King Tubby to mix his productions. King Tubby's studio has always made its own highly innovative mark on Pablo's music. It actually led to the release of an album that confirmed and spread both men's reputation : the 1976 released dub set "King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown".
Something else that Augustus Pablo had in his favour was an uncanny knack for picking on unlikely or unknown vocalists to sing or toast over his riddims, not only providing the public with good music but also the chance to hear what these people could do given the opportunity. Perhaps the most successful example of this is Jacob Miller, who under the influence of Pablo gave the reggae massive "Keep On Knocking", Each One Teach One" and "Who Say Jah No Dread". Dillinger is another artist whom Pablo captured at his best and Hugh Mundell and Tetrack - his most exciting discoveries to date - are now held in the highest esteem by reggae consumers. Other singers such as the Heptones, Locksley Castell, Ricky Grant, Delroy Williams and Norris Reid have also met with some fame on Pablo's unique riddims.
The singers with whom Augustus Pablo had his most fruitful associations were Junior Delgado and Hugh Mundell. The latter was extremely young, barely in his teens, when he recorded for Pablo. His debut album "Africa Must Be Free By 1983" became a classic roots set and said much about the commitment that Pablo, as a producer, could inspire in even the most youthful of singers. Though Augustus Pablo's most consistent and creative period was over by the end of the Seventies, strong records have still continued to appear on "Rockers" and the newer "Message" label. The roughhouse spirit of the last two decades might not seem conducive to Pablo's laid-back approach, but he's issued good music by Junior Delgado, as well as Bunny Brissett, Yami Bolo, Spliffy Dan, cultural chatter Blacker T. and Johnny Osbourne. Regarding his own outings during this period, Pablo has not always been able to keep up the standard of his best work. However, just when the reggae cognoscenti were writing Pablo off, his reputation was restored with the 1990 released "Blowing In The Wind".
The US based label Shanachie has released 8 Augustus Pablo albums over the years. Their latest effort is a wicked boxset, including 4 cd's and a DVD. Although the set contains 67 tunes, it's just impossible to capture Pablo's unequaled musical talents to the fullest. He has recorded and produced such an amount of fine tunes that it's not fair to label this release as 'the definitive collection', but they sure did a very nice job!
Here you'll find classics like Jacob Miller's False Rasta aka 'Too Much Commercialization Of Rasta'. Miller was in his early teens when he recorded this song for Pablo. He went on to be one of Jamaica's greatest, most popular vocalists. 555 Crown St. is the instrumental cut to that song, while 555 Dub is the heavenly dub cut! Baby I Love You So is also here. The song is probably reggae most chilling lovers tune. Pablo recorded the original instrumental cut in 1973 -Cassava Piece - and reworked it later as a dub called King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown. That dub is one of the masterpieces of the genre with King Tubby powerfully deconstructing the tune. The Heptones were the vocal trio of the late 60s, recording hit after hit for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. Here the group updates one of those hits Love Won't Come Easy across the 'Frozen Soul' riddim and Dillinger grabs the riddim for his deejay version called Take It Easy.
Junior Delgado was one of the better known vocalists Pablo worked with. Here he delivers Blackman Heart. In 1986 the singer cut Raggamuffin Year and that release gave Pablo highest commercial visibility he had attained in several years. Pablo's young hypnotic protégé Hugh Mundell (he took him under his wings when he was about twelve years old) recorded the album 'Africa Must Be Free By 1983' in 1979. With this album Mundell provided the near perfect overt distillation of the spirit with songs like Why Do Black Man Fuss And Fight, 'Day Of Judgement' and 'Book Of Life'. The title track Africa Must Be Free (By The Year 1983) is a moving testimony to the spirit of the times. Park Lane Special is the dub to that song. One of the most moving songs he recorded was Stop Them Jah. Here it's included in the extended 12" mix. Mundell also performed as a deejay under the name Jah Levi. Selassie Verandah and Zion A Fi Lion are two of his efforts. The under-rated roots singer Earl Sixteen, who recorded for a number of producers over the years, delivers with Changing World an impassioned tune. Freedom Fighter is a previously unreleased gem from this singer.
Norris Reid was another extremely talented Pablo protégé. He delivers a militant vocal on a cut of Cassava Piece, the same riddim Jacob Miller used for Baby Love You So. Another great tune he recorded for Pablo was Entrance To Jah World which was previously only available on a Rockers 12" single. Tetrack, led by Carlton Hines, was one of the few vocal groups produced by Pablo. Their album Let's Get Started is one of the best seventies rasta inspired vocal harmony group collections and includes the singles Let's Get Started, 'Only Jah Jah Knows' and the monumental 'Isn't It Time'. Willie William's No War is a previously unreleased track from the obscure roots vocalist.
The DVD (only 20 minutes!) contains four segments. Pablo in performance at JapanSplash circa 1986. There he performs Frozen Dub. Next comes Rockers Dub as filmed at PitSplash in Japan circa 1988. Part 3 is an impromptu performance footage of Pablo playing guitar an melodica, with Hugh Mundell singing by a river in Jamaica, 1979. The footage was part of the documentary 'Word, Sound and Power'. Finally we get an interview of Pablo from 1979.
The set comes with a 20 page booklet with biography, rare photos, and commentary by those who know him.
This boxset is an excellent collection of Pablo tunes, a nice addition for anyone who is familiar with the works of this great man, but definitely more suitable for those who have never dwelled in the mystic world of Augustus Pablo.