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Blades at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con International.
Rubén Blades Bellido de Luna
July 16, 1948
Panama City, Panama
|Minister of Tourism of Panama|
Rubén Blades Bellido de Luna (born July 16, 1948), known professionally as Rubén Blades (Spanish: [ru'?em 'blaðes], but ['bleðz] in Panama and within the family), is a Panamanian singer, songwriter, actor, musician, activist, and politician, performing musically most often in the Afro-Cuban, salsa, and Latin jazz genres. As a songwriter, Blades brought the lyrical sophistication of Central American nueva canción and Cuban nueva trova as well as experimental tempos and politically inspired Nuyorican salsa to his music, creating "thinking persons' (salsa) dance music". Blades has written dozens of hit songs, including "Pedro Navaja", "El Cantante" (which became Héctor Lavoe's signature song), and "Patria", which many Panamanians consider their second national anthem. He has won eight Grammy Awards and five Latin Grammy Awards.
His acting career began in 1983, and has continued, sometimes with several-year breaks to focus on other projects. He has prominent roles in films such as Crossover Dreams (1985), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), Predator 2 (1992), Color of Night (1994), Safe House (2012), The Counselor (2013) and Hands of Stone (2016), along with three Emmy Award nominations for his performances in The Josephine Baker Story (1991), Crazy from the Heart (1992) and The Maldonado Miracle (2003). Since 2015, he has portrayed Daniel Salazar, a main character on the TV series Fear the Walking Dead.
He is an icon in Panama and is much admired throughout Latin America and Spain, and managed to attract 18% of the vote in his failed attempt to win the Panamanian presidency in 1994. In September 2004, he was appointed minister of tourism by Panamanian president Martín Torrijos for a five-year term. He holds a Bachelor of Arts' Law degree from the University of Panama and an LL.M in International Law from Harvard University. He is married to singer Luba Mason.
Blades was born in Panama City, Panama. He is the son of Cuban musician and actress Anoland Díaz (real surname Bellido de Luna), and Colombian Rubén Darío Blades, Sr., an athlete, percussionist and graduate of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in Washington, D.C. His mother's great-uncle, Juan Bellido de Luna, was active in the Cuban revolutionary movement against Spain and was a writer and publisher in New York City. Blades's paternal grandfather, Rubén Blades, was an English-speaking native of St. Lucia who came to Panama as an accountant. His family is uncertain how the Blades family ended up in St. Lucia, but when his grandfather moved to Panama, he lived in the Panamanian Bocas del Toro Province. Ruben Blades thought that his grandfather had come to Panama to work on the Panama Canal, as he tells in the song "West Indian Man" on the album Amor y Control ("That's where the Blades comes from") (1992). He explains the source and the pronunciation of his family surname, which is of English origin, in his web show Show De Ruben Blades (SDRB).
In Blades's early days, he was a vocalist in Los Salvajes del Ritmo and also a songwriter and guest singer with a professional Latin music conjunto, Bush y sus Magníficos. His strongest influence of the day was the Joe Cuba sextet and Cheo Feliciano, whose singing style he copied to the point of imitating his voice tone and vocal range.
Blades earned degrees in political science and law at the Universidad Nacional de Panama and performed legal work at the Bank of Panama as a law student. After graduating in 1974, he moved to the U.S. and stayed with his exiled parents in Miami, Florida, before moving to New York City. Andy Harlow said that "he used to sleep on my couch while he worked at Fania (Records); used to say "I write songs too".
His first professional job in America as a singer was with La Magnifica Orchestra led by trumpeter Tony Pabon. The band's songs included "Descarga Caliente" and "De Panama a New York", which were recorded by Alegre Records in 1970. He then returned to Panama and finished his degree.
Blades began his career in New York writing songs while working in the mailroom at Fania Records. He was perceived as a talented songwriter who still had to develop a singing style of his own. The mailroom job was a good opportunity to stay close to the company until the right opportunity came along. Soon Blades was working with salseros Ray Barretto and Larry Harlow. Shortly thereafter, Blades started collaborating with trombonist and bandleader Willie Colón. They recorded several albums together and participated in albums by plena singer Mon Rivera and the Fania All Stars.
Blades's first notable hit was a song on the 1977 album Metiendo Mano that he had composed in 1968: "Pablo Pueblo", a meditation about a working-class father who returns to his home after a long day at work. The song later became his unofficial campaign song when he ran for president of Panama. The Colón and Blades recording on the same album of Tite Curet Alonso's composition, "Plantación Adentro", which dealt with the brutal treatment of Indian natives in Latin America's colonial times, was an enormous hit in various Caribbean countries. He wrote and performed several songs with the Fania All Stars and as a guest on other artists' releases, including the hits "Paula C", written about a girlfriend at the time; "Juan Pachanga", about a party animal who buries his pain for a lost love in dance and drink; and "Sin Tu Cariño", a love song, featuring a bomba break. The latter two songs feature piano solos by Puerto Rican pianist Papo Lucca.
In 1978, Blades wrote the song "El Cantante"; Colón convinced him to give the song to Colón's former musical partner, Héctor Lavoe, to record, since Lavoe's nickname was already "El Cantante de los Cantantes" ("the singer of singers"). Lavoe recorded it that same year, and it became both a big hit and Lavoe's signature song; a biographical film, El Cantante about Lavoe took the same title. (The film El Cantante, starring Marc Anthony told a fictionalized version of this story, in which Blades tells Lavoe he wrote the song for him.)
The Colón and Blades album Siembra (1978) became the best-selling salsa record in history. It has sold over 25 million copies, and almost all of its songs were hits at one time or another in various Latin American countries. Its most famous song was "Pedro Navaja", a song inspired by the 1928 song "Mack the Knife"; it tells the story of a neighborhood thug who is killed by a street walker who knows him (he stabs her, she shoots him, they both die, a bum finds them, and takes his belongings). The song inspired a 1980 Puerto Rican musical, La verdadera historia de Pedro Navaja, and a 1984 Mexican film, Pedro Navaja, neither of which had Blades' involvement. Blades wrote and sang a sequel song, "Sorpresas", on his 1985 album, Escenas, which revealed that Pedro had survived the incident and was still alive.
Blades became dissatisfied with Fania and tried to terminate his contract, but was legally obliged to record several more albums. Maestra Vida and its follow-up Canciones del Solar de los Aburridos are highlights.
In 1982, Blades got his first acting role, in The Last Fight, portraying a singer-turned-boxer vying for a championship against a fighter who was played by real-life world-champion boxer Salvador Sánchez. In 1984, he released Buscando América, and in 1985, Blades gained widespread recognition as co-writer and star of the independent film Crossover Dreams as a New York salsa singer willing to do anything to break into the mainstream. Blades also began his career in films scoring music for soundtracks. Also in 1985, he earned a master's degree in international law from Harvard Law School. He was also the subject of Robert Mugge's documentary The Return of Ruben Blades, which debuted at that year's Denver Film Festival. He also recorded a segment for the prestigious 60 Minutes, interviewed by Morley Safer.
In 1984, Blades left Fania, and signed with Elektra, although Fania continued to release recordings compiled from their archives for some years afterwards. Blades assembled a top-notch band (known variously as Seis del Solar or Son del Solar) and began touring and recording with them. His first album with them, Escenas included a duet with Linda Ronstadt (1985), won Blade his first Grammy Award, for Best Tropical Latin Album. He then recorded the album Agua de Luna, based on the short stories of famed writer Gabriel García Márquez, in 1987. The next year he released the English-language collaboration Nothing But the Truth with rock artists Sting, Elvis Costello, and Lou Reed; that same year he released the more traditionally salsa Antecedente, again with Seis del Solar, which again won a Grammy Award.
The English-language album Nothing But the Truth received disappointing reviews, but he answered his critics, "I do not believe in the notion that one is condemned to do something because he looks in a certain way or speaks a certain language. To me, music is a universal thing, and I have always been interested in the directions offered me by music in English, directions I could not find, concretely in terms of construction, with the Afro-Cuban rhythms I'd always worked with. I also wanted to leave testimony of the meeting of urban tropical music with rock 'n roll".[This quote needs a citation]
During the 1990s, he acted in films and continued to make records with Seis/Son del Solar. In 1994, he mounted his unsuccessful Panamanian presidential bid, founding the party Movimiento Papa Egoró. The album that followed this experience, La Rosa de los Vientos, won the 1997 Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Performance, and all its songs were by Panamanian songwriters, recorded using all Panamanian musicians. In 1996, Blades along with Son Miserables performed "No Te Miento (I Am Not Lying [to you])" for the AIDS benefit album Silencio=Muerte: Red Hot + Latin produced by the Red Hot Organization. In 1997, Blades headed the cast of singer/songwriter Paul Simon's first Broadway musical, The Capeman, based on a true story about a violent youth who becomes a poet in prison, which also starred Marc Anthony and Ednita Nazario. His many film appearances include The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), The Two Jakes (1990), Predator 2 (1990), Mo' Better Blues (1990), Color of Night (1994), and Devil's Own (1997). In 1999, he played Mexican artist Diego Rivera in Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock. In the 2003 film Once Upon a Time in Mexico, starring Johnny Depp, Antonio Banderas, and Willem Dafoe, he played the role of a retired FBI agent.
Blades's 1999 album Tiempos, which he recorded with musicians from the Costa Rican groups Editus and Sexteto de Jazz Latino, represented a break from his salsa past and a further rejection of commercial trends in Latin music. Ironically, the album won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Album. Even more eclectic was the 2002 album Mundo with the 11-member Editus Ensemble and bagpiper Eric Rigler, which incorporated instruments from around the world. The same year, he guested on world music artist Derek Trucks' album, Joyful Noise. In 2003 he followed the World Music Grammy and Latin Grammy winner Mundo with a web site free-download project. As he said in 2005 when receiving the ASCAP Founders Award about his non-commercial choices, "That's the way I think." In 2004, he put his artistic career on hold when he began serving a five-year appointment as Panama's minister of tourism. Beginning in June 2007, however, Blades turned some of his attention back to his artistic career, presenting an online TV show titled Show de Ruben Blades (SDRB) on his website.
In May 2007 Ruben Blades was sued by his former band mate, Willie Colon for breach of contract. This led to a series of suits and countersuits that lasted over five years. A book titled Decisiones detailing the inside story of this legal battle was written by Blades' former agent, Robert J. Morgalo and published in 2016 in English and Spanish website. The court documents can be read here and full transcripts of depositions and court rulings can be seen here
In the middle of 2008 he took a leave of absence for a mini-tour in Europe, backed by the Costa Rican band Son de Tikizia. When his government service was completed in June 2009, he reunited the members of Seis del Solar for the 25th anniversary of Buscando America in an ambitious tour of the Americas.
In June 2011, Blades was given the Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award by ASCAP and WhyHunger.
In 2015, Blades' album Tangos won a Grammy award for Best Latin Pop Album.
In 2015, Blades was cast in the regular role of Daniel Salazar in the AMC post-apocalyptic drama Fear the Walking Dead, a companion series to The Walking Dead'. Blades first appears in the second episode.