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|Ruben Blades and His Wing Span
By Elsie Forbes
You know his handsome face, you know his captivating voice, you know his name, but it is next to impossible to grasp how talented and intelligent this man truly is.
Did you know that Ruben Blades has a law degree from the University of Panama and a Masters in international law from Harvard Law School? Did you know that he co-founded the political party ‘Papa Egoro’ and ran for President in the Republic of Panama in 1994?
Mostly, it is the entertainer that comes to mind, with his thirty plus movies under his belt. Films like: Milagro Bean Fields War, Mo Better Blues, Cradle Will Rock, Once Upon a Time in Mexico to name only a few. The screens were shared with greats such as Johnny Depp, Tim Robbins, Antonio Bandadaras, Mark Anthony, Jennifer Lopez and Willem DeFoe. Per Mr. Blades, “I started acting by choice, however, when I get involved in something, I try to learn everything there is, and what I learned in Hollywood and television in this country is that you can’t sit around and wait for the opportunities to come by."
Fame for the hundreds of popular songs that he has written, recorded and performed gave us a new musical voice. Nueva Cancion or ‘New Song’, that Ruben is known for, blends the Afro-Cuban, Latin jazz and salsa into an irresistible mix.
So why is it that we haven’t heard from him in a while? He is not just an entertainer; he is also an activist for social change and committed to the evolution and growth of his native land, Panama. In 2004, he was appointed by President Martin Torrijos to be the Minister of Tourism. This position gave him another kind of voice, another type of power to energize his country, which is booming. The Panama Canal is not the only thing to double in size, tourism is way up, and so is relocation. People from all over the globe are discovering the magic and majesty of this tropical isthmus.
Blades is often called an enigma, you just cannot quite grasp the range of his abilities or his accomplishments. As he put it, “It’s not that easy to explain why I like doing so many things that seem disconnected. But when I started writing about social issues in music and started having success with that, I felt that there was a contradiction arising from making a living out of writing about social injustice. In my mind, the only way to end that contradiction was through politics. It’s really about changing the conditions I am denouncing in my songs, and that can only be done through political work.”
The exposure all of us have had in the last 40 years to Ruben Blades has been constant and more varied than you can imagine.
Ruben’s arrival was July 16th, 1948 in Panama City, The Republic of Panama. His proud parents, Angolan Bellido De Luna and Ruben Sr. were both musicians who obviously influenced young Ruben. As a pianist, Ruben’s mother gave him an environment of mathematical precision and the tempo of her native Cuba, but his dad, a Columbian percussionist, gave him rhythm and beat.
By the time he was 18, Ruben had already cut his first album.
Panama has had seasons of unrest and tragedy, one in particular was in 1964 when there was an uprising of students calling for fairness and justice, as well as raising the Panamanian flag. Being just a teenager at the time, the events left a huge impression on Ruben, and perhaps explain why; in part his life has so much passion and variety.
Life is a circle, or life is a cycle of seasons. Now that Ruben is out of the political limelight, he is back, and we are all happy to celebrate his return with his new album, TODOS VUELVEN, which means ‘Everybody Returns’. Congratulations on this magnificent work, and our gratitude for returning your voice to all of us!
Copyright© 2011, Pan Am Publishing S.A., Republic of Panama