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Blades, Rubén - 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 resulting in an English language record Nothing But the Truth (1988) 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.
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 to align the sound to a more typical salsa band. His efforts yielded Antecedente (1988) 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 Hollywood heavyweights.
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 and "The Josephine Baker Story" (both 1991), both earning him Emmy nominations; "One Man's War" (1991), "A Million to Juan" (1994), "Color of Night" (1994), "Scorpion Spring" (1996), "Chinese Box" (1997), "The Devil's Own" (1997), the Broadway musical "The Capeman" by Paul Simon (1998), "Cradle Will Rock" (1999), "All the Pretty Horses" (2000), the tv series "Gideon's Crossing" (2000), "Assassination Tango" (2002), and "Maldonado Miracle" (2003.)
"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.
1991 saw the release of Caminando with Son del Solar, followed by Amor y Control (1992.) This album was dedicated to his mother, who had died the previous year, and also marked the end of his association with Son del Solar. These 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. But he was finally ready to return to Panama, wanting to have a direct effect on the people he had been singing about.
True to his social activism, Ruben Blades ran for president of Panama in 1994, as the founder and head of the Papa Egaro Movement. 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.
"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 appeared at colleges, meeting with students and speaking 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 (1996), 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 (1999) with Editus, in which he incorporated elements of contemporary classical music and jazz; and Mundo (2002), also with Editus Ensemble and other artists, fusing Irish, Arabic and Afro-Cuban instruments and rhythms. The song Estampa reflects his ideas that all music is connected. This album can be considered the magnum opus of his career.
"Racism is absurd and my new record reflects that."
These three very different albums display his genius, originality and depth, musical as well as social - three exceptional albums befitting of his enormous talents.
He is now experimenting with distributing music over the internet through his web site, bypassing record companies, contracts, and marketing. At his website he is offering a group of songs by various artists for free download. Payment is optional, but for those who do, there is a bonus song which he says will be part of a continuation of "Maestra Vida."
Blades plans to return to his country to live at the end of 2003, to do public service and to be with his family, for at least the next five years, pulling back from his musical and film careers, but perhaps writing books. He will support the presidential candidate Martin Torrijos in 2004, 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."
Other recent releases include compilations Siembra y Otros Favoritos and Salsa Caliente de Nu York from the Fania catalog, Greatest Hits from the Elektra years, and Una Decada, a compilation from Sony.
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