Rubén Blades confesses that one of the moments he treasures the most in a career that is close to 50 years was when he saw Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie dancing backstage. Jazz legends were moved by the music of Blue dog eyes, a theme that the Panamanian took from one of the first stories by Gabriel García Márquez. The Colombian Nobel Prize winner used to remind the singer that he was a born storyteller. The Latin Grammys, which are delivered this Thursday, have surrendered this Wednesday night before the narrative and musical universe of one of the most important interpreters in the region.
Success tastes like pain, sweat and hope. Many times it tastes like shit. Fame is a place to be visited. It is not an address. Whoever does not understand it will suffer and lose his life, “said the honoree upon receiving the Person of the Year award. Blades used his speech to thank those who have helped him get to where he is today. He received the recognition from the hands of Joaquín Sabina, who confessed his admiration for raising the dance music of salsa “to the top of the fine arts.” “Gabo confessed to me that he would change his One hundred years of loneliness by Pedro Navajas”, Affirmed Sabina.
The 73-year-old Panamanian is an old acquaintance of the Latin Grammys. He participated in the celebration of Joan Manuel Serrat in 2014 and accompanied Calle 13 in the 2009 awards. Last night he received one of the highest distinctions in the Latin industry. The Academy gives him an award that began to be awarded in 2000 and that adds him to an exclusive group. Blades made his way to this selection, breaking with the conventions of salsa since the late 70s. Later, he broadened the route with a foray into jazz and a talented pen to compose. “Rubén, nobody in music has your literary work,” René Pérez, Resident, from Calle 13, told him in a text where he thanked him for all the influences.
“Blades is like a beatle of salsa, ”said Andrés Calamaro on the red carpet at the Mandalay Bay casino. The Argentine musician performed the classic in the tribute Paula C. on an evening packed with guests that kicked off with Christina Aguilera’s version of Camaelón. “Sowing is he Sgt. Pepper of the sauce”, Calamaro continued in reference to the iconic album signed with Willie Colón in 1978. The album, with only seven songs, became a success that sold more than three million copies in the world. “When we presented it throughout Latin America, I realized that he was right to use the urban chronicle as a means of expression in the Afro-Cuban genre. The reaction from the public was incredible, “said Blades in a long interview given to the Academy for the tribute.
Music was always a family affair for Blades, who grew up in the Panama of dictator Omar Torrijos. His father, a Colombian, played the bongo and his mother, a Cuban, was a singer and knew how to play the piano. Although the city felt the iron rule of Torrijos, the port was a gateway to ideas and sounds from around the world. The artist affirms that what he liked the most was American rock, especially the doo-wop. The first time he knew he could be a musician was when he saw Teenagers frontman Frankie Lymon on television. He imagined himself vocalizing with the boys in his neighborhood those sounds taken from the rhythm and blues.
Joaquín Sabina, last night in Las Vegas at the tribute to Rubén Blades. Arturo Holmes (Getty Images)
It was the dictatorship that pushed him to flee his country. “I did not see myself as a lawyer in a dictatorship,” said the artist. He arrived in Miami without a work visa in 1974 and realized that his college degree was invalid. In Florida began the legend that, like many, begins with a character in the right place at the right time.
In search of work, he knocked on the doors of Fania, a label that was on the way to becoming a monopoly for salsa. Blades knew him because he had recorded his first album for the Alegre label in Panama. The label didn’t employ him as a singer or writer, but it did hire him as a mailroom boy at a salary of $ 125 a week. Ray Barreto, the Puerto Rican percussionist who started Fania, was looking for pieces for a new group. The name reached his ears. “They told him about me because they had seen me sing at carnivals,” he confessed to the critic Ernesto Lechner. After a test with two songs, his first job arrived.
Argentine Diego Torres performed last night The singer, the famous theme that Héctor Lavoe endorsed in Comedy (1978) and it served to show Blades’ pen skills. Another Argentine, Vicentico, lent his voice for another classic, Shark. “No You know what it means to me to sing your songs to you, which ignited our conscience long ago. We continue to need him in this time that we live in, teacher, “said the vocalist of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, a group that had already paid tribute to the Panamanian star with Disappearances, a song that conveys the unease that the Latin American military dictatorships left in the streets.
Colombian Carlos Vives, accompanied by Egidio Cuadrado on the accordion, sang Decisions, the song that opens Looking for america (1984), another classic in which Blades fused salsa with rock and jazz. Rozalén, María Toledo and Beatriz Luengo approached another song from the same album from flamenco, Father Antonio and his altar boy Andrés. “As a Spaniard, I could imagine Latin America for your music,” said Luengo. “Thank you for putting music at the service of important things,” he added. The honoree also sang, at the end, an emotional version of But Razor.
Blades accumulated in his musical and acting career, which began with a role in the play of West Side Story in 1968, enough power to have a political capital in Panama. In 1994, the Harvard graduate became a presidential candidate with an anti-corruption agenda for the Papa Egoro movement, which means Mother Earth in the indigenous language. He came in third place with 182,000 votes, 17%. Years later, in 2004, he would become Minister of Tourism in the Government of Omar Torrijos, the son of the dictator.
The night left a memory of Blades’ sentimental upbringing on Latin America. “He taught us to compose music for the feet and for the head,” said Juan Luis Guerra, who was not present, but sent a video. More intimate was the Puerto Rican Farruko, who sang Love and control, one of his grandfather’s favorites. To end the night, the honoree said that he still has everything to do. “I’m not afraid of time, just indifference,” said the poet on a night where Las Vegas has been at his feet.