HE ARRIVES at the Music Works office in Kingston quietly, on foot, no entourage, no Toyota Turbo.
Anyone accustomed to the gold-teeth and coke-spoon variety of reggae supa might walk straight past this thin, unassuming dread in the brown chords and earthman shoes.
Augustus Pablo belies the contemporary myth that you have to wear leatherette trousers to make good music.
Music Works producer Gussie Clarke lends us his back office for the interview. We close the door on the traffic buzz from Slipe Road and Pablos gentle, resonant voice fills the cramped, record-lined room with the tranquillity of the Jamaican countryside...
I am a Kingstonian but my heart is for the hills. My mother and father are from the country."
Pablo now lives in the hills near Golden Spring, outside Kingston, but he does not affect any back-to-nature pose "It is not because I want to live there right now, but because I couldnt get no place in town."
He lives a simple, solitary life dedicated to his work. "More time, I just rest by myself in the hills. lam not married or anything like that, sol live by myself."
Unlike 99% of Jamaican males, he delivers this statement without a snigger. "That part gives me certain vibes to create music. Like the creation vibes within me are ever-flaming.
"I dont run it down all year round like some people after money all the time who dont really have time to penetrate the other part of themselves. Sometimes I just sit in the hills and cool out and give praises to the Father. You have to do those things to balance yourself."
PABLOS WORK reflects the African tradition in which music belongs to everyone, arid musicians, as craftsmen, are an integral part of their community. "Some people go to the studio every day and live by that. I dont live that way I teach different youths thats part of my work too. Jah send the youths to me wherever l am and I have my piano and a little drum machine, a riddim box, and I just rehearse and train them because them cant really sing or anything. I try to put energy inside them."
Pablos proteges have included the late Hugh Mundell (senselessly murdered in 1984) and Junior Reid, the new lead singer of Black Uhuru. Pablo also tries to pass on his knowledge of publishing and the business side of music, mindful of his own early experiences.
"When I was coming up I never know nothing . . . the first time I did a recording I never knew I was supposed to get money."
That first recording happened quite by chance when the teenaged Pablo, in his capacity as owner of Rockers sound system, was buying records at Aquarius. He borrowed a melodica from "a little sistren" and started playing it in the shop.
"I never have one myself though I could play the piano".
Despite this, the experiment must have been impressive because Herman chin Loy, owner of Aquarius, rushed him into the studio the next day to put the melody on a rhythm. This creation did not bring Pablo recognition until some years later when the rhythm tape came into his possession via his
present engineer, Philip Smart, who was working at King Tubbys studio. With the rhythm in his control Pablo dubbed on a jazz piano and guitar but a title still eluded him "Then me get a vision and call it East Of The River Nile"
The title captures the stark beauty of the melody and of Pablos subsequent works, perfectly.
IT IS not unusual for Jamaican teenagers to seek a career in music or a workable philosophy in Rasta. What is unusual is that someone like Pablo became a musician or a Rasta.
As the son of an accountant, growing up in the greenery of middle-class Havendale, he had many more lucrative careers open to him. By rights he should be a prosperous bald head sitting in an uptown office pouring scorn and derision on "the thriftless poor", "the dirty Rastas" and "the primitive music" which they create. One can imagine his fathers horror when young Pablo rejected the cushy existence that he had struggled to achieve, grew his locks, picked up his melodica and headed Downtown.
For Pablo music is a vocation, not a necessity, and it shows. He does not sacrifice his individualism to fashion nor his integrity to money. He rarely sells his music to, or works for, other producers. He does versions when inspired, not when short of cash.
"I personally have to create music that way - thru the inspiration of His Majesty and I dont do it more than so. I might do-over a rhythm if l like it, but I cant be tripping on one rhythm all the time.
"I can only do what I do for the crowd that love it and others who would like to hear it. Thats the way the last LP came out".
Said LP, Rising Sun on Greensleeves, at the start of this year, was Pablos first for some years. He is typically self-effacing about it; "The album is nice in its own way a couple of instrumentals on it are irie still."
In comparing it to his earlier records he says; You hear more cleanness in it in a different way, I kinda mix-up the vibes a little more, a little dance-hall, a little... you know. ,. (He shrugs) . . . you might see changes but nothing has really changed within the vibes that I have projected from long time"
Those vibes emanate from It is enduring faith in Rastafari and his love for his island. The latter discouraged Pablo from travelling "For a longtime, l2 years, I did not leave Jamaica." A trip to the States changed this and Pablo mixed two tracks for Rising Sun at a friends studio in Long Island.
Also crucial to the album were "the environment and the tradition in which Im made, and going through different tribulations from the past coming up to now". The violent and, it would seem, futile Gas Protests of 1985 gave Pablo the title for the track The Day Before The Riot. After recording the cut Pablo woke to find that the working classes had brought Jamaica to a standstill; their comment on rising fuel costs.
"You cant move... the people blocked off the main roads and even the little side roads, so l call the music The Day Before The Riot because it came out that way through the whole vibe. Like some people (The government and the Tourist Board) say it wasnt a riot, but there was a whole heap of gunshot fire."
The barricades may be down but the frustrations remain. Pablo recognises that the road-block/rebel spirit is the foundation of reggae and the reason for its limited commercial success. Invariably it is jokeyjokey records like Girlie Girlie "Gimmicks that learn nothing" which receive international approval and substantial airplay.
"They want the people to keep on living in illusion, they dont want the people to wake up and know themselves."
PABLOS HATRED of injustice co-exists with a faith in individuals. His condemnation of the system, for example, contains no accusation of me, the Babylonian journalist; he seems to include me warmly on his side of the struggle. This is typical of the Jamaican Rastas who, living in a black, albeit postcolonial, society, cannot explain oppression in the simplistic black/white terms favoured by some of their more negative British brethren.
Pablos tolerant attitude is also revealed by his comments on other people in the music industry, commercial radio DJ, Barry G., David Rodigans pal, receives glowing praise;
"I like his vibes; theyre really creative towards the upliftment of the people. One time he didnt play much reggae, but hes getting to know himself. . . Any little interesting news from America or South Africa that you wouldnt normally hear about, him make the people know about it. He does dancehall shows, meeting the people, understanding what they need."
Similarly, although Pablos personal taste in DJs gives preference to co-religionist Brigadier Jerry and "The ones that talk culture", he does not condemn the young slackness and gimmicks rappers. "I dont fight against any of the youths I know they have to eat bread. What them doing is very creative; whether it right or wrong I dont really determine."
He sees music as a "healer" as well as a career for the youths neglected by the government in terms of training, and used by them in political wars.
"Nowadays a lot of youth in the ghetto are turning to music and l give thanks for that. The youth can make a little money out of DJing or singing but before there was nothing really set up for them, no training like woodwork, technical drawing or anything to uplift themselves, help themselves and teach others."
But Pablo sees the bus-fares and lunch Government training schemes, similar to our YTS programme, as exploitative and cosmetic. Investment in the music industry could be one solution, but Jamaicans with the necessary capital tend to shun reggae and the working class culture associated with it.
"People put their money into which part they respect; reggae music bringing in a lot of vibes - money and 'ting - to Jamaica but they just don't admit the truth.
He'd like to see everyone contributing to a reggae centre Kingston venues are limited to a drive-in cinema and an echoing sports stadium - "I and I feel depressed about them 'ting most of the time."
HIS OWN musical career promises to take an unhurried course alongside all his other projects. He intends to extend his range from the strictly instrumental.
"I have vocal tunes but I dont really feel ready yet to do them fully," he says with typical modesty and diffidence. "I did one pon the album Earth Rightful Ruler but Im not really ready to go into vocal I want to catch certain practices and vibes first." Before I can ask another question Pablo explains apologetically that he must leave. It is time to catch a few more vibes, hail some brethren, shape-up a tune for some barefoot kids.
I watch the reluctant supa from the window as he enters the Downtown street, merging into the urban melee of idlers, shoppers, schoolkids, and jostling mini-bus queues. Just another dread with a melodica in his pocket, and a vision in his heart.