|RUBEN BLADES - BIOGRAPHY||
Rubén Blades is a voice of power in the worlds of both music and politics: a leading salsa musician and a radical critic of Latin American dictatorships. He was born in Panama City to singer/pianist Anoland Blades and a police officer Rubén Blades, Sr. He credits his paternal grandmother, a vegetarian Rosicrucian/spiritualist who practiced yoga, for instilling in him a life-long passion for truth and justice by introducing him to Hollywood films and U.S. culture.
During the 1950s, Blades and his friends loved American rock & roll, spending many hours perfecting the songs even though they didn't understand the English lyrics. Eventually, Blades learned English and in 1963 sang it in his brother's pop band. His infatuation with North American culture abruptly ended when a violent conflict erupted between Panama and the U.S. over the flying of the Panamanian flag beside the American flag over a Canal Zone high school. The skirmish left 21 dead and injured 500 of Blades countrymen. Disillusioned, the young singer turned his interest toward Latin music and sang only in Spanish. Early Latin influences included Joe Cuba and Ismael Rivera.
In 1966, Blades became a singer with Conjunto Latino and then sang with Los Salvajes del Ritmo until 1969 while studying law at the University of Panama. While there, Joe Cuba invited Blades to sing with his band, but he declined, preferring to finish his schooling first. Shortly thereafter, military turmoil forced the temporary closure of the school leading Bladés to visit New York. There he recorded De Panama a Nuevo York with Pete Rodriguez. Blades composed all but one of the songs on the album. He then returned to the university where following graduation in 1974, Blades worked as a lawyer for the Bank of Panama. He then helped rehabilitate convicts before returning to New York to work in the mailroom at Fania Records.
At the suggestion of a mutual acquaintance, bandleader Ray Barretto auditioned Blades in the mailroom as a replacement for Tito Allen. Blades debuted with Barretto's band that summer at Madison Square Gardens. He then appeared on Barretto's 1975 eponymous album; afterward Barretto left to form a new band and Blades renamed the old group Guarare. Blades gained wide-spread recognition when he composed and performed "El Cazangero" for Willie Colon on Colon's album The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The song earned Blades the Latin NY magazine's "Composer of the Year" award in 1976. He continued performing with Colon and the Fania All-Stars through 1978. At the same time he began writing songs for himself and other artists including Ricardo Ray, Ismael Miranda, Cheo Feliciano and Tito Puente.
In 1978, working in conjunction with Colon, Blades recorded Siembra which has become the best-selling salsa album ever and continues to set the standard for the genre. Blades' subsequent albums continue to be enormously popular and demonstrate his increasing willingness to explore other musical traditions without compromising the integrity of his Latin American roots. The 1985 Escenas featured Linda Ronstadt and Joe Jackson, while the smash hit Nothing But the Truth, numbered Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, and Sting. In addition to his musical career, Blades has also actively pursued an acting career making his feature film debut in 1985's Crossover Dreams. Subsequent films include Critical Condition, The Milagro Beanfield War and The Two Jakes. Blades also headlined a British television documentary, The Return of Rubén Blades, and it was here that he first mentioned his political aspirations. A recurrent theme in his recordings and performances is the need for Latin Americans to transcend national barriers and unite as a people. Blades ran in the Panamanian presidential election in 1994 to gain a solid second place.