augustus pablo

Augustus Pablo

One of the most important melodica players ever, Augustus Pablo was the first to use the melodica in reggae. He was also instrumental in popularizing the genre of Jamaican dub. Pablo was most active during the 1970s as both a recording artist and record producer.

Born Horace Swaby in St. Andrew, Jamaica in 1954, Pablo attended the Kingston College School where he learned to play the organ. It was during this time that a young girl lent him a melodica which was used at the school to help teach kids music. Pablo quickly became obsessed with the instrument. As his proficiency on the melodica grew, Pablo became more and more interested in using it to develop original and interesting reggae songs.

Augustus and Herman Chin Loy

Sometime in 1971, Pablo met record producer Herman Chin Loy. Chin Loy was looking for new sounds and asked the young Horace Swaby if he would play his melodica. Loving the melodica’s sound, Chin Loy recorded several tracks. The most important of these was the song “Iggy Iggy” which would expose many to the sound of the melodica and help establish it as a serious instrument. The soft, pleasing sound of his melodica over the heavy bass rhythms created a new and exciting sound in reggae music.

Pablo then began recording for Chin Loy’s Aquarius record label. It was at this time that Horace Swaby took on his new name, Augustus Pablo. The name came from Chin Loy, who used it as a pseudonym for the keyboard players he used for recordings. Another recording, East of the River Nile, saw moderate success. The track was notable for blending East Asian sounds and reggae, with Pablo’s melodica weaving in and out of the tune’s jagged drum beat.

Steppin’ Out

Soon after his work with Chin Loy, Pablo joined the band Now Generation, where he mainly played keyboard. After leaving that band, Pablo joined forces with friend and producer Clive Chin. Playing his melodica, they recorded the instrumental “Java” which would become a huge hit in Jamaica, effectively launching Pablo’s solo career at age 18. Now a major reggae artist, Pablo began recording with other notable producers, such as Lee “Scratch” Perry and Leonard Chin. Pablo recorded another big hit with singer John Holt called “My Desire,” again featuring the lovely tones of Pablo’s melodica.

Pablo soon went on to form his own record labels Hot Stuff, Message, and Rockers. He released a series of successful instrumentals and collaborated again with Clive Chin on the 1974 album This Is Augustus Pablo. The following year he would work with the legendary reggae artist and engineer King Tubby on the album Ital Dub. A year later, in 1976, the two would release King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, regarded by many as one of the most important dub albums of all time. Pablo’s melodica playing on this record is astonishing and cemented his, and the melodica’s, status as reggae legends.

His Later Career and Life

In the late 1970s, Pablo continued to put out successful albums and worked with various reggae artists, such as Jacob Miller, Bob Marley, Roman Stewart, the Heptones, The Immortals, Earl Sixteen, Delroy Wilson, Junior Delgado, Hugh Mundell, and Freddy Mckay. During the 1980s, Pablo produced fewer albums but still made some excellent records, including the critically acclaimed Rising Sun in 1986. Despite ill health, Pablo continued touring worldwide and released an excellent live album recorded in Tokyo in 1987. In 1990, he released the highly praised album Blowing With the Wind, showcasing his supreme melodica skills.

Suffering for years with the nerve disorder myasthenia gravis, Augustus Pablo died of a collapsed lung on May 18, 1999. The strict Rastafarian was pivotal in the development of reggae, dub, and Jamaican music as a whole. His excellent melodica playing and unique style both as a musician and a producer will forever be remembered.

augustus pablo - keep on dubbing

4 thoughts on “Augustus Pablo”

  1. Greetings This is an awesome article I worked with Pablo for over 10 years and produced an album with which he played on in 2001 called “Black Seed” I also played the melodica on the title track Black Seed Thank you for keeping this spiritual icons memory alive!!!

    Iyasus

    1. Hey Haile,

      Wow…what an awesome message! I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get back to this.

      I’m honored that you’ve found the site and liked the article on Pablo. Also, I checked out your track and will be featuring it around here somehow really soon.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Bunny Brissett

    Great Article. Pablo at Rockers International was like a Father to us, his artists. Guiding and leading us all the way. He took me under his wing and produced my first singles & cd’s. Taught me how & where to publish my music. What a friend and we at Rockers were like one Family. Pablo blessed us all quietly & with kindness.

    1. I LOVE this!! Thank you so much for this comment.

      (Also…for others seeing these comments, Bunny’s music is VERY cool and should be checked out on YouTube right now!!)

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