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Interview: Addis Pablo

Interview: Addis Pablo

Interview: Addis Pablo

By on - Photos by Ratiba Hamzaoui - Comment

"My dad was a very quiet person"


United Reggae is backstage at Brixton Electric, about to interview Addis Pablo. He’s finished a 45 minute set playing his melodica, the instrument popularised by his late father Augustus, on a bill featuring family friend Yami Bolo, Jah9 and Anthony B.

Addis Pablo

Originally the plan was to converse in a more leisurely fashion at a hotel. But due to a flurry of itinerary changes to the tour with his JA-meets-Trini crew Suns of Dub the arrangement has been pushed back until now. His dressing room is crowded and noisy. United Reggae doesn’t have the proper accreditation and security has asked that we keep it short. No matter. Addis hasn’t given many interviews so we will take what we can get.

Addis is tall, soft spoken, deep voiced, and understated. He’s not what you’d call a natural frontman in the sense of say Anthony B – who is tearing the stage apart downstairs as we speak. Yet he doesn’t seem nervous or uncomfortable during our interview either.

I performed my dad’s songs before I had songs of my own

Addis’ father, the producer and instrumentalist Horace “Augustus Pablo” Swaby passed away in 1999. Last year Addis released his debut album In My Father’s House. Tonight he played both his own and his father's music – the biggest forward coming for a rendition of Augustus’ ground-breaking Java.

It’s pretty much standard” he says of the mixture “from my first time performing I performed my dad’s songs before I had songs of my own. I had songs but they weren’t necessarily melodica tunes. When I first started performing live in a band with Chinna Smith and Style Scott and legendary musicians and friends of my dad, I would play his songs in tribute to him and also other classic songs”.

Addis PabloThis evening he brought on Suns of Dub singer Jah Bami for a cover of My Mind - by fabled youth star and Pablo Senior protégé Hugh Mundell. On stage Addis called Mundell, who was tragically murdered in 1983, “my brethren I never got to meet”.

“I heard about him a lot” he says of his father’s relationship with ‘Jah Mundell’ “My dad was a very quiet person so he didn’t necessarily talk about things – [it was] just kind of reasoning. I think things like that were sad for him to even speak about so he didn’t speak about it. But I just know him through the works”.

Augustus Pablo took the melodica, a key and wind “blow organ” previously considered a child’s toy, into dub. Did Addis feel ambivalent about picking up a tool so associated with his father’s career?

“I wouldn’t say I didn’t want to but I didn’t necessarily look at it as something I was going to do for the sake of doing it. I didn’t have a definite reason to do it like because I knew people would want to hire me or people might want to see me play because of my dad. It was kind of through natural inspiration and people around me encouraging me because I was doing music anyway. Probably from the age of three I had a melodica – it was a kind of vibes”.

From the age of three I had a melodica – it was a kind of vibes

Like his father, Addis’ main musical outlet was the piano (an instrument he was casually noodling on with one hand two months earlier when we met him at Earl Chinna Smith’s Yard in Kingston). In addition he learned “some guitar at an early age, hand drum, stuff like that, computer technology”. In Suns of Dub, Addis is a producer along with his colleague and manager Ras Jammy.

As you’ve probably guessed from the number of names dropped in this article so far, Addis was raised around a lot of artists. (“Lloyd Hemmings, White Mice, Benbow, Chinna Smith – many ones.”) The legendary Earl Sixteen, who tours with the young Pablo in Europe, said he used to collect Addis from school. There is laughter in the room. “Yeah definitely! That’s my family! That’s my uncle you know. Uncle Earl.”

Addis Pablo

He must also know Yami Bolo pretty well too. Yami recorded for Augustus on his Rockers International label and travelled in his 80s touring camp. As part of his own set, the singer also blew the melodica (on which he would sneak plays while the great man wasn’t looking).

“In terms of how well you know someone - that’s a very deep question” says Addis to more laughter “These are the people who raised me. In a sense they knew me before I was even born so they know me probably better than I know them”.

And he is close to artists of his own generation. He knows Jah9 who frequents musician’s gatherings at Chinna’s yard. They have another shared link in Rory from Stone Love, producer of Jah9’s longplayer New Name. “Yeah, Jah9 I’ve known her for a few years. We’ve worked on Call Righteous which is the New Name rhythm. I was on that rhythm from the start so I’ve known her for a couple of years and performed with her on various occasions”. Another person he shared a rhythm with is UK based prodigy Randy Valentine who was in the audience tonight. “Yeah, I spoke to him earlier. We did Rat Race, a collaboration with Jonathan and Riga” - of Hemp Higher, Randy’s Swiss management - “It’s a family thing. Musical family.”

In My Father’s House was issued via Dutch label Jahsolidrock, helmed by Amsterdam’s Marc Baronner and laid mainly by Austria’s House of Riddim band. What was behind the decision to record a project of European rhythms rather than, say, with Suns of Dub?

“Well it really didn’t happen in the sense of choice like we said ‘Ok we’re going to do this first’. But the brethrens from Jahsolidrock wrote to me in the interest of doing this and at the same we were also working on an album with Rory from Stone Love. It just so happened that they wrote to us at a time where we didn’t really complete the project with Rory and they were ready at the time and music is all about timing.”

We're also working on an album with Rory from Stone Love

“We felt it was a good time to release something and the tracks were reasonably…” he pauses “They were European but I think they reflected a good side of melodica. And it opens up to people who maybe never would have heard a melodica song and certain people who don’t listen to certain styles of music it can reach further. Because of course we have a classic foundation of Rockers and really for me I don’t even need to duplicate or replicate these rhythms. But this is the type of music I love. I can perform them because my dad already created over thousands of classic rhythms – so if I want to play a roots rhythm I can just draw from the catalogue”.

The Rory project sounds exciting – when can we expect that to come out?

“Well we’re actually in talks and we’re supposed to meet up with him in a few weeks because he’s supposed to be in the UK. I can’t say exactly when we’re going to release it but hopefully by the end of next year”.
“We also have another similar instrumental album coming soon which is the Far East LP – it’s going to feature some tracks produced by myself and a brethren from New Jersey Tim from Dub Assassins. He’s a live musician who plays guitar so we collaborated on an album of different live tracks ska kind of feel and reggae one drop variations”.

Addis has also been busy with Suns of Dub. A few days before the interview they and Japanese sound Mighty Crown released a mixtape together and there are plenty more partnerships in the pipeline this year.

Music is all about timing

“Whoa a lot of things coming out of Suns of Dub as well. We have projects coming out with Mr Williamz, Hempress Sativa. We’re collaborating with Masia One, an artist from Singapore - a female mcee singer and deejay many things. Of course some of the tracks on the mixtape will be released soon. And a Suns of Dub LP like some dub projects where we did remixes of some of the original Rockers tapes and combined them with new artists. Projects with Jah Bami coming soon singles a lot of things”.

In the accompanying documentary to In My Father’s House Addis tells the strange story of how, when he was younger, he tried to purchase a melodica online and it was sent to him for free.
“Yeah! It was a weird situation! To this day I’m still trying to figure out exactly what happened. I had a melodica off eBay it was a Hohner, a classic Hohner melodica the same one my dad used to use – or the same model. And normally how things work is they charge you and then they send things but in this case I didn’t see any charge on my account”.

Orange Street

Do you think they saw the name Addis Swaby and your address in Jamaica and thought ‘I can’t charge the son of Augustus Pablo for this?’

“That would be nice! Because I think I did write the person so maybe… you never know”.

People know Augustus from his thousands of recordings and productions. It’s another deep question – but what was he actually like? “The people who know his music know the same vibe and atmosphere” he says without missing a beat. “He was very spiritual, very devoted to Rastafari, a caring person, a very good father, one of the greatest men”.

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