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Blades, Ruben - Salsa/Pop
Blades did not stop there. He explored rock music in an effort to incorporate new facets into his music. Rock stars such as Lou Reed and Elvis Costello, took an interest in his work and resulted in an English language record where he carried on using different rhythms from distinct cultural sources. "I want people to acknowledge the possibilities of a Latin artist fully - meaning we can do English, too. We were raised with rock & roll. We were raised with the U.S. culture banging in our heads." The musical relationships with non Latin artists continue to this day.
Meanwhile, his devotion to his roots continued as Seis del Solar evolved to become Son del Solar, where Blades continued to explore the trajectory of Latin America's social issues through music, adding a brass section to give the songs more speed and movement, and align the sound to a more typical salsa band. His efforts yielded "Antecedente" and another Grammy award.
His film career also continued in 1985, in his second movie "Crossover Dreams." He plays a Latin musician trying to introduce himself into the American market, and he also co-wrote the screenplay. It was critically acclaimed and went into general release as a successful independent film. ''I can't say enough for the people of East Harlem. They brought us soup and let us film in their homes in exchange for our painting them. Everybody in the community cooperated. It was a Latin effort done by ourselves to help ourselves."
While it helped him hone his acting skills, his convincing interpretation confused many people about his career goals, and the role is sometimes mistakenly thought to be autobiographical.. But offers of short roles in important productions started coming, based on the strength of this performance. This prompted Blades to move to California where he gradually acquired a measure of prestige as an actor; appearing in movies with Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Nicholson and other cinema celebrities.
His first important cinema role was in "The Milagro Beanfield War", directed by Robert Redford. It was followed by a leading role in "Dead Man Out", where his portrait of a killer on death row earned him the Cable ACE Best Actor Award for movies produced for cable television.
Other acting credits include: The Two Jakes (1990), Mo' Better Blues (1990), The Super (1991), Crazy From The Heart (1991) and "The Josephine Baker Story" (1991), both earning him Emmy nominations; "One Man's War (1991), Miracle on I-880 (1993), A Million to Juan (1994), Color of Night (1994), Scorpion Spring (1996), Chinese Box (1997), The Devils Own (1997), the Broadway musical "The Capeman" by Paul Simon, "Cradle Will Rock" (1999), "All the Pretty Horses" (2000), the tv series "Gideon's Crossing" (2000), and "Assassination Tango" (2002).
"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. This is especially true when it come to Hollywood, where Latinos are always misrepresented or out of the picture as an artistic force."
1991 and 1992 saw the release of the last albums with Son del Solar, Caminando and Amor y Control. The productions continued to show that salsa music could be much more than escapist or just entertainment. It could be a mechanism for social comment and an instrument for change.
True to his social activism, Ruben Blades ran for president of Panama in 1994,
as the founder and head of the Papa Egaro party. He ran on a platform of
social equity grounded in a sense of ethics and equality between cultural
and social groups across all economic classes. "After
creating all the songs and calling for social change, my life changed — but
not the subjects of my songs. It was a contradiction of sorts. The people
supported my work, I was living under very beneficial economic conditions
and they were not. So, in order to sustain the integrity of the work, I felt
I had to go out there on the streets and try to make political change possible
through the political process, not just singing. We proved it could work.
We came in third out of 24 parties, with 18% of the vote. I'm a better, less
selfish person for it." In 2000 he was named a Goodwill
Ambassador for the United Nations, and spoke at colleges against racism.
After his run for president, Blades returned his attention to his music, producing a trilogy of Grammy winning recordings: La Rosa de los Vientos, with Panamanian musicians and composers, that moves towards a unity between the various rhythms and styles in Latin music, as evidenced in the song "La Rosa de los Vientos"; Tiempos with Editus, in which he incorporated elements of contemporary classical music and jazz as a base to his whole display of genius, originality and compromise, musical as well as social - an exceptional album fitting of his enormous talents; and Mundo, also with Editus Ensemble and other artists, fusing Irish, Arabic and Afro-Cuban rhythms. "Racism is absurd and my new record reflects that." This album can be considered the magnum opus of his career.
He is now experimenting with distributing music over the internet through
his web site, and has spoken of producing films by Latin filmmakers as well.
Blades plans to return to his country to live at the end of 2003, to do public service and be with his family, for at least the next five years. He will support the presidential candidate Martin Torrijos, and hopes that he can fulfill his goal of improving conditions in Panama. "When I go back to Panama, I'm going to be very happy to be there because I really believe in my country and I know we're going to do good things there. It's not just a romantic dream; we can make things happen there. So I'm really looking forward to that. As for music, I'm going to continue writing in my own free time - I think I'm going to get into writing books... Now I'm going to go to Panama and I think between work that I have to do, I'm going to have time to look into other things."
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