Music News

Despite His Many Hats, Ruben Blades Shines Brightest in Music

Few artists in Latin music — or in any genre, for that matter — are as prolific and talented as Ruben Blades. He's a singer and a songwriter. He's an actor. He's even a lawyer and a politician. And if all this sounds like exaggeration, check his IMDB page for references to movies like Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Color of Night, The Devil's Own and One Man's War. (We'll skip Predator 2, though he was in that one too.) Check his discography for a score of records that have been hits. And check in with the Panamanian Board of Tourism to see who the minister is.

But music has always been and always will be that for which Blades is best-known. The man is a living legend in this arena, and for good reason. From the time he first appeared in the early '70s, his ass-shaking, hip-breaking, Nuyorican-style salsa has enchanted fans. And though it was cut from the same cloth as that of other heavyweights of the time, like Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, and the Fania All-Stars, Blades' music has always contained that little extra, as the French say, I don't know what. At once cerebral and poetic, his lyrics read like prose that seeks to challenge while reveling in the beauty of language. Some call it la nueva trove, and that's as good a name as any.

The Panamanian-born singer began his music career with Fania Records, which launched not only him but a large number of salsa's greats, including La Guarachera, the incomparable Celia Cruz. Blades eventually parted ways with Fania, but his career has remained robust.

Blades' 1978 release with Willie Colon, Siembra, is considered a salsa classic, as are 1996's La Rosa de Los Vientos and 1999's Tiempos. And 2002 saw Blades release a high-concept album titled Mundo, wherein he gathered musicians from around the world to accompany him on what was meant to be an auditory journey across continents and cultures. Genius.

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Christopher Lopez