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Blades, Rubén - Salsa/Pop
Other performers such as Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, and Ismael Miranda had recorded his compositions, but his real break came when Ray Barretto was looking for someone to replace the vocalist in his band. Barretto was told that Blades could be his man, and he set up an audition for him. The result was that Blades gave up his job at Fania to immediately join Barretto's group. He shared lead vocals with Tito Gomez on the album "Barretto" (1975.) He also provided backup and guest vocals for other Fania recordings, and the Fania All-Stars.
In 1976, Ruben Blades became the replacement vocalist for Héctor Lavoe, who had left Willie Colón's band. Colón and Blades would later start what eventually would represent an important shift in salsa music.
"Ray was more interested in Afro-Cuban music and jazz. Willie was more interested with things that had to do with Latin America, and he allowed me to record my songs. It was a wonderful group of people, which I had the privilege to meet and work with."
On his first album with Colón, Metiendo Mano (1977), two of Blades' songs, "Plantación Adentro" and "Pablo Pueblo", stood out and had a tremendous impact on salsa fans as well as musicians, for his vision on social issues.
The following record, Siembra (1978), expands on the musical and social vision of the former. The repercussions of the song "Pedro Navaja" topped all records for salsa songs. The record sold more than a million copies and hit first place on the charts of most Spanish speaking countries (gold and platinum) as well as the United States. The smash hit song "Pedro Navaja" made people realize the enormous influence salsa could have as a vehicle for social commentary. The public's reaction was instantaneous and overwhelmingly positive.
"All of a sudden you had a record that was confronting issues and that was unheard of at the time."
This ground-breaking album was followed by another, the two part Maestra Vida (1980), a musical drama using characters to explore social issues in a very personal way.
In 1982, Blades discovered his talents as an actor in the cinema. Fania owner Jerry Massucci offered him a role in a low budget movie he was producing entitled "The Last Fight," directed by Fred Williamson.
"I played a boxer who also sang, so we could sell a few records."
Although the film had no impact, it elicited Blades' interest in the film medium and sparked a successful career as an actor.
However, experience as an actor did not derail Blades' singing career nor his abiding interest in Latin music. After six years with Willie Colón, Blades decided it was time to form his own band so he could develop his own musical ideas. His discontent with the business practices of Fania Records had grown, and prompted Blades to sign with Elektra Records. He started Seis del Solar, experimenting with new salsa formats. He eliminated the brass section and utilized certain keys closer to rock music. He recorded Buscando America (1984) with the group. That album included several great songs including the title track, Buscando America.
"I wanted to make an urban American album that can be appreciated by any American city dweller and may bring people who haven't identified with salsa a bit closer to us."
After its success, he took some time off to attend Harvard University School of Law, with the long-term goal of returning Panama with the credentials to be taken seriously. He earned a Master's Degree in International Law in 1985.
"I needed something to humble myself, and believe me, that school, which was no picnic, did it."
The documentary "The Return of Ruben Blades" captures his graduation, and his return to performing.
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