By now, the late Augustus Pablo’s contributions to music are well known to reggae and dub fans. One of Jamaica’s most inspirational musicians and producers, Pablo’s name is often uttered in hushed tones with the same reverence usually reserved for sacred voices like Nesta Marley, Jacob Miller, and Burning Spear. A contemporary (and sometime collaborator) of not only Miller, but dub originators Lee “Scratch” Perry and King Tubby–“King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown,” Pablo’s Tubby-fied version of Miller’s “Baby I Love You So,” not only presents its own holy trinity, but stands as one of the seminal dub classics–Pablo’s spiritual influence on roots reggae is easily comparable to John Coltrane’s cathartic effect on jazz. Pablo strove not for commercial success but for purity of form–an unthinkable ideology in today’s dancehall-dominated climate. Unlike many Jamaican musicians, he didn’t over-record; his low-key nature and disdain for the spotlight–he reportedly disappeared into the hills for months at a time in between albums–probably prevented him from being fully appreciated in his lifetime.
It’s not a stretch to call Pablo the most natural of reggae’s mystics, or the most innovative of dub’s masters; his style of dub may even be the wisest. While men like Tubby, Scientist, and Scratch were brilliant arrangers and engineers in their own right, Pablo’s trademark minor-key melodica and keyboard playing made him much more than a mere knob-twiddler. As dub’s echoes have gradually spread across other continents, Pablo’s aesthetic influence can be heard not only in frontline electronic acts like Thievery Corporation, Jazzanova, and Boozoo Bajou, but in the layered subtleties of IDM, downtempo, broken beat, nu-jazz, and dubstep artists all over the globe.
There have been other Pablo collections before–including Original Rockers, a stellar one-disc effort from the short-lived Island Jamaica imprint–but there’s never been as comprehensive a look into the man, the mystery, and the music as The Mystic World of Augustus Pablo: The Rockers Story. A staggering 68 songs deep, the set stands as a testament to the fact that, despite his legendary reputation, Pablo was somewhat underrated as a producer. Vocal licks for artists like Jr. Delgado, Johnny Osborne, Earl Sixteen, The Immortals, The Heptones, and Hugh Mundell prove that Pablo was just as capable of building a track as deconstructing one; yet as solid as these a-sides sound, they’re outdone by Pablo’s duppy-cleansing dub rinses and meditative instrumentals like “555 Dub,” “One Step Dub,” and “Rockers Meet King Tubby Ina Firehouse,” which feel like they were lovingly steamed inside an ital calabash for weeks before being pressed onto tape.
Pablo’s world is subdivided into quadrants: Classic Rockers, Roots Rockers, New Style Rockers, and Rarities. The discs bookend each other, to a degree. Classic Rockers serves up Pablo’s most-recognizable tracks, like “East of the River Nile,” “Keep on Dubbing,” and “Africa Must Be Free.” Rarities fuels collectors’ drool with sublimely obscure songs like “Third Eye,” “Twin Seal,” “Higgy Higgy,” and one of the set’s standouts, Sister Frica’s “One in the Spirit.” With tunes like “Pablo Red in a Dread” (a slow-bubbling version of Yabby You’s “Conquering Lion”), Roots Rockers could easily have been called “Classic Rockers II.” Meanwhile, New Style Rockers captures late-period Pablo (including Delgado’s “Raggamuffin Year” and “One Step More”) majestically. Amazingly, there’s no fall-off in quality whatsoever over this four-disc set covering several decades of dub–just layers of sound and space.