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Musicism Dub

Musicism Dub
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Herman Chin Loy wants the world to know the truth about his musical vision, realized in a series of fantastic records released throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. And how his mission was interrupted in the early 1990s.

“I would like to start off by saying: what about the half that has never been told, who so bold, for the price of gold. The first part is like a Jamaican proverb, but who so bold, for the price of gold, is the part that I put in, because it is all about gold. My mission on this earth is all about the music. But if you want to know the truth, follow the money!”

Herman’s musical trip had a wonderfully sunny start, before ending in acrimony and intrigue. Follow the money indeed… He started by selling records for Leslie Kong, then opened his own One Stop record shop, before moving on to KG’s electrical appliance store in Halfway Tree and deejaying at their discoteque, the Lotus A Go Go.

“It was the age of Aquarius! Whatever was in the air, or what got my attention at the time would find its way into the music, cos I was very creative.”

So Herman turned his keen ears towards record production. The Aquarius and Scorpio labels had a fine run of hit tunes, known for their unusual arrangements and imaginative productions. Many cuts featured Herman himself talking over them. Others were moody instrumentals, for which Herman invented the name Augustus Pablo.

“The name came out of my head. Augustus Pablo – it sounded real not normal! Horace Swaby is the one that I really put the name with, but before that it was Lloyd Charmers, he did some songs for me under that name. Well Horace Swaby came back to me and said can I use the name on my own productions, and I said sure, go ahead. Cos I was not interested in money per se, I was interested in helping others along.”

Kingston in the early 70s was on fire with new music, and Herman put on the afterburners to release Aquarius Dub, probably the world’s first dub LP.

“People always used to come to the store and they want to buy the dub music, but they couldn’t get it easily, so I said let me put all these things together as an LP, and let’s put no label on it so it looks like a dub [plate], and let’s sell it as a dub album. And I was the first one to do that, for sure. I remember when I took the record down to sell it to Randy’s, well they just scoff at it to some degree. Well if people didn’t want to sell my music, then I would just say ‘fuck off with you’, I’ll just sell my music myself, from my own shop and nowhere else.”

Herman then opened the Aquarius Records shop on Constant Spring Road, with a busy bus stop right outside providing a captive audience. Big speakers were placed out in the street, and Herman acted as a vibes man and entertainer, running in and out of the shop and dragging customers inside. As the crowds grew bigger, Aquarius became extremely influential, and the energetic Herman could make or break the latest tunes.

“Well once we get going now, the Aquarius record shop sells more records than anyone in Jamaica. And the people get to know me and come to hang out to see what we play. And soon all musicians start gathering there, like Tommy McCook and the Wailers and everyone, cos Aquarius was the place to be.”

In one infamous incident, Peter Tosh was hanging around outside the shop, when plain-clothes police grabbed the spliff he was smoking and dragged him back to Halfway Tree police station, where he was brutally beaten. Herman and Tommy McCook were the ones who bailed him out.

“Peter Tosh was feisty and got in some trouble sometimes, but then we all did – heheheh. I had always hung around with the bad boys.”

Herman had by now brought his brother Lloyd into the business, and together they opened the Aquarius Studio, fitted out to an extremely high standard by Rosser Electronics, from Swansea in Wales. The studio is probably most remembered today for the recordings made there by Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. But it was also the seedbed for some interesting offshoots into jazz and soul, with Herman always pushing up against the boundaries of what was conventional. Interestingly, Herman retains a huge affection for Lee “Scratch” Perry, and the mystic experiments that came out of his Black Ark studio.

“Well Scratch was a mad guy, a crazy dude. When we were a youth, the two of us make some records with a bit of screaming and shouting on top. So I come with “here is the news, the great bugga wugga from arugga”, and some other foolishness, just like Scratch, who come with the Chicken Scratch. It was a youthman thing. Then later he came into the shop one day looking like Haile Selassie. And I say “bloodclaat Scratch, you can’t go around looking so”, and he take off him cap and looked inside and pull out some cigarette butt he found in there. And he had a girlfriend name Pauline, and when the two of them fall out, he threw everything out of the studio that had the letter P on it! He was one crazy dude.”

Herman was developing his own unique world view derived partly from a rejection of conventional politics, alongside a distinctive reading of the Bible.

“Musicism is because you have socialism, communism and capitalism, so I thought Musicism would be a good thing to forge people together, to stop them yelling at each other and murdering each other. I thought it would be a good place for everybody to come together. Then I started a little thing down by Trenchtown there, where I was getting people from Rema and from Jungle to get together, but it mashed up in a little while because in the heat of the moment the guns would bark, and for the sake of my life I opted out of that, you know. But Musicism was a thought, so I continued to have an album called Musicism, and you’re talking about people like Linval Thompson, Sugar Minott. I was saying to the people of Jamaica, let’s not vote JLP, let’s not vote PNP, let it be that Musicism is a place where it’s not politics, and where people can talk to each other, so Musicism was birthed out of that.. So we had all sorts of things going on with the Musicism label, and I would put an album with the vocal and then have another album with the dub, because I was into business, I was into making money, but what drives me into the music was the music itself, because I really love the music.”

This reissue is of two extremely rare LPs that came out on Musicism in 1983, a couple of years after dub had declined in popularity as an album form in Jamaica. They were released in the generic 12-inch sleeves of the American label TK Disco, which had recently ceased trading, picked up on Herman’s travels to Miami. The labels were either blank or stamped with the wrong song titles from a similarly obscure vocal compilation. A handful of copies were exported to London and the U.S., and the remainder were sold exclusively by the Aquarius shop.

“In the studio we used to work really fast in them days, especially with Karl Pitterson. Karl Pitterson was one of the most efficient engineers you would ever find, and him and me had a great understanding. So the studio ran real fast. Then there was this guy Steven Stanley who was just a little youngster when he start with me, but he went on to Compass Point and working with Chris Blackwell. He was a little uppity, a bit prideful, although he didn’t even recognise that, but still he was a really good engineer. So we had these people to work for me, and it didn’t take long to do what I did. So it’s strange that we did these things so fast, so many years ago, and they still have a public that wants to hear them today.”

Herman also had an eccentric label called Selection Exclusive which mainly released 12 inch singles with hand-stamped titles on the labels, or sometimes no title at all, wrapped in more of those generic TK Disco sleeves. If this wasn’t enough to throw off even the most serious collector, instead of the expected version on the B-side, there would often be a totally different tune from 10 years earlier, sometimes with Herman whispering smokey rhymes over the top.

“Selection Exclusive was birthed where I was selling this dub album exclusive, but it was expensive. So I don’t think much people knew about these records, but the collectors knew, and these records were selling for hundreds of [Jamaican] dollars more than a normal LP. So this dub album come out and I give it to the sound systems, I give it to Gemini and Merritone, so that they play it all the time. I never give my records to the radio station. And I made so much money out of this album, that it was exclusive expensive!”
Finally, it was a family dispute with Herman’s brother Lloyd that derailed the Aquarius and Musicism train. The outcome was that Lloyd took the studio and Herman kept the record shop.

“I go to court twice and lost all of that money, and my brother won control of the studio. But then they try to write me out of history. And I get so upset when I really think about it. I’m not saying I’ve never done anything wrong in my life. We all need to repent. You see, I have to tell the truth: what about the half that’s never been told! But there was some skulduggery going on then.”

Nowadays there are no record shops on Constant Spring Road. The block which housed Aquarius is now home to Usain Bolt’s Tracks And Records restaurant. Herman joined the steady exodus of Jamaicans to Miami, and today finds him using his verbal dexterity and irrepressible energy to sell Sorrel drinks filled with medicinal herbs, ginger and turmeric. But his music is still out there, circling the globe through speakers and headphones...

“I always want my music to be on a higher plane, like to carry some message. And a dub album gives plenty of space for the message. Just because there are no words, it doesn’t mean that it don’t communicate. If you listen carefully, you will hear it properly, and so the message will reach down through the years, and spread to the people again. This is a spiritual conversation, cos I have reached to a different spiritual plane!”

Diggory Kenrick

Found tracks

Herman Chin Loy - Herman Chin Loy - Armagideon War Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Herman Chin Loy - The Greatest Love Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Baby Come On Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Herman Chin Loy - Why Do You Idle Dub
Herman Chin Loy - She’s Gone Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Feeling Is Right Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Herman Chin Loy - Don’t Fight The Man Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Herman Chin Loy - Troubled World Dub
Herman Chin Loy - It's Alright Dub
Herman Chin Loy - No Malice Me Chalice Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Song Of My Mother Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Them A Fight Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Secret Admirer Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Herman Chin Loy - I Love You So Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Nobody Wants To Die Dub
Herman Chin Loy - You'll Never Know Dub
Herman Chin Loy - Inna The Dance (Version)
Herman Chin Loy - East Of Kabul