The London-based Colombian band Son Real presents an excellent CD of vibrant, dynamic and very danceable salsa and merengue. The band has a funky rhythm section (percussion, piano, bass), a tight and bright brass section, and three female crooners who fill out the sound on the 13 tracks.
This is a must-have album for you Latin fans out there; our picks include the dancefloor tracks Aurorita, Corazon gitano and Ay papa ay mama. A perfect choice for your Friday and Saturday parties!
African music star Angelique Kidjo is set to release her new album Celia (Verve/Universal Music France) on April 19, 2019. The new recording reimagines and celebrates “The Queen of Salsa,” Cuban artist Celia Cruz. Guests on the album include Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen on drums, Meshell Ndegeocello on bass, Sons Of Kemet, and Gangbé Brass Band.
Angelique Kidjo is currently touring the United States, presenting songs from her 2018 album Remain In Light, which reconceptualized the music of influential rock band Talking Heads.
She will be at the Savannah Music Festival on April 6th, 2019 and at Carolina Theatre in Durham, North Carolina on April 8th. Other tour dates include:
Ulster Performing Arts Center
‘El Cigala’ (the langostine or Norway lobster) is the nickname given by the Losada brothers to Diego Jimenez Salazar.
Cigala is a Gypsy singer-songwriter born in Madrid in 1968 and nephew of Rafael Farina. Since his childhood, he has been singing in his Madrid neighborhood of El Rastro (known for its large, popular flea market), later doing the same in the peñas (Flamenco fan clubs), and at the age of 12 he won a prize in the Gente Joven (Young People) competition and first prize in the Flamenco Joven (Young Flamenco) competition in Getafe (a city in Madrid’s southern metropolitan area).
He has accompanied such famous dancers as Cristóbal Reyes, Mario Maya, Manolete, Carmen Cortés, Guito, Farruco and Manuel Camacho. He has performed on records by Camarón, Paco Peña, Gerardo Núñez, Tomatito, and has worked with renowned musicians of the likes of Jorge Pardo, Carlos Benavent and Michel Camilo, to name but a few.
He has traveled the world over, visiting Iraq, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, United States and more.
In 1994, he embarked on his solo career accompanied by the guitarist Antón Jiménez and was chosen by the public of the Sala Revolver concert venue in Madrid as Best New Artist of the year.
In 1995, he shared the billing with Morente, Mercé and Parrita. In May of that year he released Undebel with the participation of David Amaya, Paquete, Parrita, J.M. Cortina, Bandolero, Chaboli and El Piraña.
El Cigala’s best known collaboration was the recording Lágrimas Negras with Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes. These two renowned performers, from two distinct disciplines, joined forces to create a third, powerful and distinctive musical language. Bebo Valdés was the pianist and composer arranger who helped shape Cuban music for the last 60 years. He was also the father of jazz phenomenon Chucho Valdés. Diego ‘El Cigala’ was the younger traditional soul-searching flamenco singer from Spain. They used boleros as their medium, Spanish as their language, and together they created Afro-Cuban influenced boleros with a distinct flamenco personality.
It was film director Fernando Trueba who had the idea of putting Bebo Valdés (85 at the time), and “El Cigala” (who was 35), together to record the all-time classic album and recreate songs such as “Lágrimas Negras”, “Corazon Loco”, “Se me olvidó que te olvidé” and “La bien pagá”.
Lágrimas Negras became an international best seller, with over 700.000 copies sold all over the world, 300.000 in Spain.
In 2006, El Cigala won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Flamenco Album with Picasso en Mis Ojos.
He explored tango and flamenco in 2010’s Cigala & Tango and continued his interest in South American music with Romance de la luna Tucumana.
In 2014, Cigala recorded a live album as a tribute to Paco de Lucía with Diego del Morao on guitar.
In 2016 he released Sony Music Latin CD debut, Indestructible, an album where he explored the intersection of flamenco singing and classic 1970s salsa.
Fernando Luis Rosario Marin was born in Coamo, Puerto Rico, on May 6th, 1930. He studied guitar bass, and saxophone encouraged by his mother. His family moved to New York when he was 16 years old. Willie Rosario studied journalism and public relations, but music soon became his profession.
Willie Rosario started his band in an era where there was fierce competition amongst the revered bands of the late 1950’s such as Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, Jose Curbelo, Orlando Marín, Joe Cuba, Alfredito, Cesar Concepción, Moncho Lena, Cortijo y su Combo, Vicentico Valdez, and last but not least, the venerable and worshipful, Machito and his Afrocubans.
The environment in which Willie Rosario developed as a bandleader instilled in him a sense of discipline and professionalism which he has maintained to this day, but the characteristic most associated with Willie Rosario is the Swing or solid rhythm section which is geared to the dancer, the rhythm section is complemented by a unique brass section comprised of four trumpets and a baritone sax, the only salsa band with this type of brass section.
The list of hits by the Willie Rosario is as impressive as the names of his well-known singers: De barrio obrero a la quince”, Chango Ta veni”, Lluvia”, Busca el Ritmo”, Amor Clasificado”, “Botaron la pelota”, “Atizame el fogon”, “El Apartamento” and many others. Puerto Rico Caribbean
El Bravo Soy Yo! (1963) Fabuloso y Fantástico (1966) Latin Jazz a Go-Go-Go (1967) Two Too Much (1967) Haida Huo (1968) Boogaloo y Guaguancó (1968) El Bravo de Siempre (1969) De Donde Nace el Ritmo (Inca Records, 1971) Más Ritmo (Inca Records, 1972) Infinito (Inca Records, 1973) Otra Vez (Inca Records, 1975) Gracias Mundo (Inca Records, 1977) From the Depth of My Brain (Top Hits, 1978) El Rey del Ritmo! (Top Hits, 1979) El de a 20 de Willie (Top Hits, 1980) The Portrait of a Salsa Man (Top Hits, 1981) Atízame el Fogón (Top Hits, 1982) The Salsa Machine (Top Hits, 1983) Nuevos Horizontes ( Bronco, 1984) Afincando ( Bronco, 1985) Nueva Cosecha ( Bronco, 1986) A Man of Music ( Bronco, 1987) The Salsa Legend ( Bronco, 1988) Unique ( Bronco, 1989) Viva Rosario! ( Bronco, 1990) The Roaring Fifties ( Bronco, 1991) Tradición Clásica (NRT, 1993) ¡Sorpresas! (Tiffany Records, 1995) Back to the Future (HMS Records, 1999) La Banda Que Deleita (Gennara Records, 2006) Evidencia (Gennara Records, 2016)
Salsa singer Tito Gómez was born April 9, 1948 in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico although he became an adopted son of Colombia.
Tito Gómez was a veteran sonero, recognized internationally as a gifted singer with a spectacular voice. After making his name during a five-year stint with the great Puerto Rican institution Sonora Ponceña, Tito Gómez left in 1973 for a brief time with the breakaway La Terrifica. Thereafter, a couple of albums with Ray Barretto in 1975 and 1976 further raised his profile.
Tito returned to Ponceña in 1978 and went on to work with Tito Valentin, Venezuela’s La Amistad, Charlie Palmieri, La Terrifica, Rubby Haddock and Colombia’s legendary Grupo Niche before successfully resuming his solo career in 1991, creating several successful productions with Tito Rojas.
Tito Gomez delivered power non-stop old school salsa and mambo, pitched high, with the mix favoring the upper register.
He died June 11, 2007 in Cali, Colombia.
Fuego En El 23! (Inca Records, 1969) Para Gozar Borinquen (Inca Records, 1977) Tierra Musica y Sentimiento (Nuestra Records, 1979 Brujerias (Nuestra Records, 1982) Un Nuevo Horizonte (Musical Productions, 1991) Agradecimiento (Zeida, 1993) Recogiendo Frutos (Musical Productions, 1995) Volver (Musical Productions, 1997) Quien Nos Iba A Decir (Envidia, 2000) Comenzando (En cero Musical Productions, 2004) La Herencia (Fania, 2012)
Edwin Bonilla was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico and transplanted to Elizabeth, New Jersey, at the age of four. Aside from the Puerto Rican “jibaro,” or countryside music, his parents often played at home, he listened to Motown, R&B, and rock during his preteen years. By the time he was 11 years of age, Edwin began to pay more attention to the music of New York figures such as Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colón and the rest of the emerging Salsa groups. The process of self-learning timbales started at 13 years of age. Within a year, he was already playing professionally with a trio that mostly played “jibaro” music in Elizabeth, which eventually led to work with Salsa bands.
At 15 years of age Edwin started playing with a local band called Orquesta Sonica that featured two youngsters who are well know today, Jimmy Bosch on trombone and Herman Oliveras on vocals. While playing with several groups, Edwin studied at the Drummers Collective in New York.
In 1981, he joined the Charanga Casino that was extremely popular throughout America’s Northeast and Miami during the early 1980’s. The experiences in the Charanga Casino led to further learning of Cuban music as he was exposed to Afro-Cuban rhythms early on during the frequent. By then, Edwin was into Cuban septets, traditional and “tipico” ensembles.
While performing with the Charanga Casino, he caught the eye of Hansel Martinez who invited him to join him and Raul, whereupon Edwin moved to Miami in 1987.
As a percussionist, Edwin is familiar with rhythmic patterns from all over the world. His professional experiences include performances and recordings in Jazz, Rock, Soca, Pop, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Indian and Brazilian music. He has participated in more than 1000 recordings during the last 12 years. He has done work for videos, movie scores and jingles. In 1999, “Edwin y su Son” was his first solo release. In March 2002 Edwin released “Soy la Candela.”
He has one of the most impressive resumes in the music industry. He has worked for such distinguished and popular figures as Lenny Kravitz, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval, N’Sync, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Madonna, Dave Grusin, Gloria Estefan, Patty Labelle, Quincy Jones, Nestor Torres, Giovanni Hidalgo, Gypsy Kings and Stevie Wonder among a host of others.
El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico began after the breakup of the Combo de Rafael Cortijo in 1962. At the time, several former members met with Rafael Alvarez Guedes, a business manager, with the purpose of forming amusical group that would accompany Dominican singer Joséito Mateo in a recording for the Gema label. The album, titled Meneame los mangos (Shake my mangos), featured Rafael Ithier, Eddie Pérez, Hector Santos, Kito Velez, Martin Quiñones, Miguel Cruz and Roberto Rohena. The group, baptized then by Alvarez Guedes as El Gran Combo, met again to set the foundation of what would be one of the most prestigious nationally and internationally.
After a stormy beginning, the quality of their musicians opened the doors to WIAC radio, where they started a show together with Fidel Cabrera. Little by little, they became better known in Puerto Rican homes. On May 26 of they that year they made their first public presentation at the Bayamón Rock and Roll club. Later they moved over to WKAQ, where the group had its TV debut on “La Taberna India (The Indian Tavern). They later played at La Concha Hotel, in a tribute to Rafael Cortijo.
After that, singer Chiqui Rivera left the group and Sammy Ayala recommended a young man from Trastallares named Junior Montañez as a replacement. During his premiere, at WKAQ, the singer performed a number that impressed several of those who were present, including Felipe “LaVoz” Rodríguez, who told him that there were too many ‘Juniors’ in the business and that he should change the name for “Andy.” Since then,and for the next 15 years, Andy Montañez, became a legendary figure in Latin American music. After that, Roberto Rohena returned and stayed with the Combo for seven years, before leaving permanently to create his Apolo Sound.
Two days before the murder of President John F. Kennedy, the group’s first album, Acángana, came out. The island was in mourning and the producers of the album, the brothers Alvarez Guedes, stopped the distribution in Puerto Rico and sent the recording to Panama, Venezuela and Mexico, where it got considerable airplay. Afterwards, it arrived to New York and finally to Puerto Rico, where it reached gold status.
The following year, El Combo performed in New York City forthe first time. There, they had a great success at the top dance halls,including the Palladium Ball Room, the Bronx Casino, the Manhattan Center and The Caborrojeño. From there, other doors were opened in Curacao, Panama, Santo Domingo, Venezuela, Colombia and the rest of the American continent, where their songs reached the top of the charts. During that time the Combo acquired so many fans, that soon they were given an exclusive contract with the Puerto Rican TV show “El Show de las 12,” produced by Paquito Cordero.
The excess of publicity through the TV screen shrank the demand for the group at dance halls and public and private celebrations,because the fans enjoyed their music daily from their arm chairs. The album sales declined and so did the bookings. After recording LPs, in 1967 the group won its second “gold album” for Boogaloo con el Gran Combo.
Two years later, the group’s stability was at stake. Several musicians left and joined the ensemble. Roberto Rohena and Elias Lopes left el Gran Combo. They were replaced by Baby Serrano and Edwin Cortés. Later, Hector Santos and Victor Pérez also left, and they were replaced by José Duchesne and Mike Torres. Mike left and was eventually replaced by Tommy Sánchez. Soon after, Edwin Cortés left and Gerardo Cruz joined the group, staying for ten years. In spite of the difficulties, the members were able to get along and”Los mulatos del sabor” became popular again.
The decade of the 1970s began with other changes. Milton Correa left and Miguel Marrero joined El Gran Combo. Mike Ramos joined the band and Mike Torres left. He was replaced by Alfredo (Taty) Maldonado. In spite of the renovation, the orchestra continued winning followers and that year they received yet again the “Momo de Oro, the top Venezuelan award, for best international orchestra. The group had achieved international fame.
Representatives of several record labels entered into conversations with El Gran Combo, but they did not prosper. Gema did not renew their contract. Without a record company the orphaned group took the difficult decision of producing its own albums. To do this, Andy had to mortgage his home for $7.000 payable in 30 days. That’s how the EGC label was born. Its first release was Estamos primeros, El Gran Combo (We Are first, the Gran Combo).
In 1971 the combo added the trombone, skillfully played by Epifanio (Fanny) Ceballo, who remained with the group until he died of cancer in 1991. The first release with the new sound was De punta a punta. It included the classics “Don Goyo,” “Achilipu” and “Le dicen papá.”The following year Record World Magazine gave them the award for “El Combodel Año” (Combo of the Year) and they also won the Gold Album Festival in Miami. A little later, singer Pellin Rodríguez left to pursue solo projects. Hewas replaced by Marcos Montañez, Andy’s brother. Marcos stayed with the group for about six months, until he was replaced by sonero Charlie Aponte.
One of the group’s founders, bassist Miguel Cruz left in1975 due to health reasons. He was replaced by Fernando Pérez. The following year, El Gran Combo’s members were declared “Honorary Citizens of New Orleans”and in 1977 they won the Presidential Cup of Venezuela for best international musical group. Sadly, that year other members left. Martin Quiñones retired and Andy Montañez received an offer to sing with Dimension Latina in Venezuela.Substituting Andy was difficult, but they found the right voice in the talented Jerry Rivas.
Many doubted the new singers, but the doubts soon vanished with the recording of “El Gran Combo en Las Vegas,” winner of a gold album in 1978.
The decade closed with other important rewards, including an acknowledgment from the Festival of Bomba and Plena of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. The new decade began with yet another gold album, “Aqui no se sienta nadie” (No One Sits Down Here); as well as a successful trip to Peru. The following year El Gran Combo received the Calendario de Plata (Silver Calendar) in Mexico, a traditionally difficult market to conquer.
Upon turning 20 years old, El Gran Combo received multiple national and international recognition, including “El Congo de Oro”from Colombia, a Resolution of the Puerto Rican Senate and another from the town of Dorado, as well as a Paoli Prize. Two years later El Gran Combo took its music c to the cold lands from Alaska, where they lit the atmosphere with the heat of their rhythm. They celebrated the visit with Breaking the Ice – El Gran Combo en Alaska, nominated for a Grammy. That year they won another Paoli Prize and the radio station Z-93 dedicated its First National Salsa Day to Rafael Ithier. By then, El Gran Combo had conquered countries like England,Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Spain, Argentina, Venezuela, Japan and the United States.
In 1982 came in a historical concert in the Madison Square Garden, where they celebrated their Silver Anniversary in front of a packed audience that intoned standing “Happy Birthday.” Other accolades followed: “The Guayaquil Luminoso” from Ecuador, the “Premio Aplausos a la Mejor Orquesta,” a Resolution by the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, another by the town of Bayamon and a proclaim by the town ofJuncos, among others. Five years later El Gran Combo celebrated its 30th anniversary with a series of festivities that included a softball game with current and legendary Major League baseball stars as well as guest artists like Victor Pellot Power, Rubén Sierra and Gilberto Santa Rosa.
The tributes continued in Madrid (Spain), where they held a big celebration and got wide press coverage. Upon their return, the Senate of Puerto Rico honored them and passed a resolution called Embajadores de Nuestra Musica (Ambassadors of Our Music).” But the people of Puerto Rico had its biggest celebration at the Hiram Bithorn stadium in front of thousands of loyal fans who enjoyed the musical history of the “Mulattos del Sabor,”together with Andy Montañez, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Jerry Rivera, Alex D’Castro,Johnny Ventura and La Sonora Ponceña. Two months there was another tribute at the Puerto Rican convention center.
In 2006, they released Arroz con Habichuela (“Rice and Beans”) which featured three hit singles: “No Hay Manera” (“There’s No Way”), the title song, and “Si la ves por ahí”.
On August 9, 2013 founder Eddie “La Bala” Perez died.
On December 12, 2014 the lead singer Charlie Aponte retired.
On January 24, 2015 Anthony Garcia became lead singer, replacing Aponte. Later in 2015, El Gran Combo received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Menéame los Mangos, el Gran Combo con Joseito Mateo (Gema Records, 1962) El Gran Combo… de Siempre (Gema Records, 1963) Acángana (Gema Records, 1963) Ojos Chinos, Jala Jala (Gema Records, 1964) El Caballo Pelotero (Gema Records, 1965) Traigo un Tumba’o, Meneíto Me (Gema Records, 1965) El Swing del Gran Combo con Pellín y Andy (Gema Records, 1966) En Navidad (Gema Records, 1966) Maldito Callo (Gema Records, 1967) Esos Ojitos Negros (Gema Records, 1967) Fiesta Con El Gran Combo (Gema Records, 1967) Boleros Románticos (Gema Records, 1967) Tú Querías Boogaloo, Toma Boogaloo (Gema Records, 1967) Pata Pata, Jala Jala Y Boogaloo (Gema Records, 1967) Boogaloos Con El Gran Combo (Gema Records, 1967) Tangos (Gema Records, 1967) Merengues (Gema Records, 1968) Guarachas (Gema Records, 1968) Bombas, Bombas, Bombas (Gema Records, 1968) Los Nenes Sicodélicos (Gema Records, 1968) Latin Power (Gema Records, 1968) Smile, It’s El Gran Combo (Gema Records, 1968) Este Si Que es el Gran Combo (Gema Records, 1969) Estamos Primeros (EGC Records, 1970) De Punta a Punta (EGC Records, 1971) Por el Libro (EGC Records, 1972) En Acción (EGC Records, 1973) 5 (EGC Records, 1973) Disfrútelo Hasta el Cabo! (EGC Records, 1974) 7 (EGC Records, 1975) Los Sorullos (EGC Records, 1975) Mejor Que Nunca (EGC Records, 1976) Internacional (EGC Records, 1977) En Las Vegas (Combo Records, 1978) ¡Aquí No Se Sienta Nadie! (Combo Records, 1979) Unity (Combo Records, 1980) Happy Days (Combo Records, 1981) Nuestro Aniversario (Combo Records, 1982) 20th Anniversary (Combo Records, 1982) La Universidad de la Salsa (Combo Records, 1983) In Alaska: Breaking The Ice (Combo Records, 1984) Innovations (Combo Records, 1985) Nuestra Música (Combo Records, 1985) Y Su Pueblo (Combo Records, 1986) 25th Anniversary (Combo Records, 1987) Romántico y Sabroso (Combo Records, 1988) ¡Ámame! (Combo Records, 1989) Latin Up! (Combo Records, 1990) 20 Grandes Éxitos (Discos Fuentes, 1990) Erupción (Combo Records, 1991) ¡Gracias!: 30 Años de Sabor (Combo Records, 1992) 30 Aniversario: Bailando Con el Mundo (Combo Records, 1992) First Class International (Combo Records, 1993) Puerto Rico: La Ruta del Sabor (Combo Records, 1994) Para Todos los Gustos (Fonovisa Records, 1995) The Best (Sony Discos Norte, 1995) Por Todo lo Alto (Fonovisa Records, 1996) 16 Boleros (Discos Fuentes, 1996) 35th Anniversary: 35 Years Around The World (Combo Records, 1997) Pasaporte Musical (Combo Records, 1998) Nuevo Milenio: El Mismo Sabor (Combo Records, 2001) 40 Aniversario en Vivo (BMG, 2002) Estamos Aquí…¡Y de Verdad! (Sony Discos Norte, 2004) Arroz Con Habichuela (Sony Discos Norte, 2006) Sin Salsa No Hay Paraíso (Sony Discos Norte, 2010) 50 Aniversario, Vol. 1 (EGC Records, 2013) Alunizando (EGC Records, 2016)
Panama City, the early fifties. Rubén Blades, a boy only 4 years old, born in a working family residing in the old city neighborhood, already knew how to read and write courtesy of his grandmother, a personage worthy of one of his future songs and who, even in those days, practiced yoga and meditation. She was an early feminist who sent only her daughters to school, since she thought that is was them, more than her sons, who would need it the most to make their way in life. As a result of this decision, Rubén’s mother learned to play the piano, thus establishing a musical precedent in the life of Rubén Blades. His father was a man of many changes. Coming from an English ancestry family, he went from jockey to basketball player to detective, but invariably remaining faithful to his great love: musicmore specifically, percussion. For Rubén “such changes shouldn’t surprise anyone, safe maybe those who do not know the Caribbean realities, where people reinvent themselves”.
At age six, Rubén Blades won a tale contest for elementary school children. He never stopped writing since. Such was the ambient of his childhood. “I never realized my family was poor until I left my neighborhood”, he says. During his adolescence, the family’s economic problems got worse while the country’s political situation with respect to the United States was getting more and more difficult. This had an important effect on the life of young Rubén, forcing him into thinking about problems he never thought about before. “Up to 1964 I had been totally pro Yankee. In tastes, in music, in everything. But the events of January of ’64, when the United States refused to raise the Panamanian flag at the Canal Zone – a situation that resulted in 25 people dead – opened my eyes and, like me, many of those who had been absolutely pro American started to ask themselves questions of a political and social nature”. After this “political awakening”, Rubén Blades continued his studies and eventually entered the School of Law and Political Science of the University of Panama. Meanwhile, his musical inclinations prompted him to join some musical groups such as El Conjunto Latino de Papi Arozamena (Papi Arozamena’s Latin Group) and Los Salvajes del Ritmo (The Rhythmic Savages).
He performed sporadically with them at the city’s local places, but pressures brought by his university professors at the Law School, who objected to the notion of a lawyer singing salsa, forced him to leave the stages. He never left the music though. In 1968, taking advantage of having a brother who worked on an airline company, he traveled to New York on $20. On this first visit to the city he contacted Pancho Cristal, Cheo Feliciano’s producer, who had heard him sing in Panama and who proposed him to join the Pete Rodríguez band to make a record. Rubén was happy to accept and that’s how his recording career began.
Back in Panama he found the political situation more tense than everstill, he decided he was going to finish his studies no matter what. In 1973, when he was about to graduate, his father, who was then with the Detectives State Corps, faced a difficult situation when general Noriega, then responsible for the Secret Police, accused a group of Panamanians of trying to assassinate General Omar Torrijos. His father was not directly accused, but his relationship with some of those accused forced the family to flee the country in order to avoid reprisals against them. It also prevented them from having to be involved in the dark schemes Noriega had with the CIA.
Despite all the problems, Rubén Blades remained in the country until he managed to get his law degree, a kind of personal and moral obligation he felt. Once he had his title as a lawyer in his own country and given the repercussions his father’s political problems could have had on his career, on the one hand, and the perspective of being a lawyer under a dictatorship on the other, his options were to join the group which kept the dictatorial policies of the country – something unthinkable for him – or to leave for Miami with his family, which was what eventually happened.
Once in Miami his musical inclinations found no obstacles to start gradually developing until they became his main aspiration. Shortly after, he moved to New York looking for an opportunity to introduce himself in the city’s musical scene. His first job there was that of organizing and carrying the mail for Fania Records, a recording company and a kind of sanctuary for all salsa musicians. Despite the fact that his labor obligations were far removed from music itself, the contact with some important individuals of the New York musical scene was continual. His break came when Ray Barreto, who was looking for someone to replace the vocalist in his band, found out through someone who had heard Rubén Blades singing in Panama that he could be the man he was looking for, and he set up an audition for him. The result was completely satisfying and Rubén gave up his job at Fania to immediately join Barreto’s group. That was the beginning of his career as a professional musician.
In 1976, after solving the inevitable immigration problems, Rubén Blades became the vocalist replacement of Héctor Lavoe, who had left the Willie Colon band and, together, both the bandleader and Rubén started what eventually would represent the most important change Caribbean music has experienced in all its history. On his first LP with Colón, “Metiendo Mano” (Getting Involved), two of Rubén Blades songs (“Plantación”[Plantation] and “Pablo Pueblo”) stood out and had a tremendous impact amongst salsa fans as well as with the musicians who interpreted them. The following record, “Siembra” (Sow), expands on the musical and social vision of the former. The repercussions of the song “Pedro Navaja” (Peter Jack Knife) topped all records a song of its style ever achieved, turning into one of the most representative themes of Latin American music of all time. The LP sold more than a million copies and hit 1st place on the Spanish speaking countries charts and also those of the United States, reaching gold and platinum in most of the former.” Pedro Navaja” opened up the doors of salsa to a world which, up to that point, remained behind its own reality, wiping out the notion that this was only evasion music unaccountable even within the society where it developed. People who didn’t like salsa because they thought of it as low projection, vulgar music, started to realize de enormous influence it could have on all social levels.The public’s reaction was instantaneous.
It started to understand the total sense of the music. “This was a spontaneous manifestation. We had no support on the part of the industry. We were not a creation. The whole thing was made possible thanks to the reaction of people who bought the record and made it possible for us to continue to make records”.
In 1980, Rubén Blades discovered movies. A Fania top executive offered him a role in a low budget movie entitled “The Last Pipe”, directed by Fred Williamson. Although the film had no impact, it elicited Rubén’s interest on the film medium and prompted him to learn how to work in that scenario. After six years with the Willie Colon group, in 1982 Rubén Blades decided it was time to go independent and form his own group which would enable him to develop his own musical ideas in further depth and explore salsa in a more direct fashion through its texts. He started 6 del Solar, a group based on experimentation trying to move away from typical salsa formats, eliminating the brass section and utilizing certain keys closer to rock. He recorded “Agua de Luna” (Moon Water) with the group, a theme inspired on a series of short stories by Gabriel García Márquez. With 6 del Solar he was awarded a Grammy that came to show the recognition and acceptance of his innovative theories with Caribbean popular music. Problems, which developed with Fania Records, prompted Rubén Blades to sign for Elektra Records.
Meanwhile, the group kept evolving, eventually turning into Son del Solar. With them, Blades continued to explore the trajectory of Latin America’s social reality through music, adding a brass section to give the songs more speed and movement. Another Grammy further recognized de value of his efforts. The LP “Buscando America” (Looking for America) and the song “Desapariciones” (Disappearances) managed to attract the Latin public. The effort to universalize his music and wipe out stereotypes awakened in Rubén Blades a growing interest in rock as a means of experimentation and the incorporation of new facets into his music. In contrast, rock stars such as Lou Reed and Elvis Costello, got interested in his work. The result is a record in English where he carries out his theories about conjunction and the development of different rhythms from various cultural sources. “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”.
His second experience with movies allowed him to develop, in a more consistent manner than before, his qualities and intuition as an actor. In “”Crossover Dreams” he is the main character, as he plays a Latin musician trying to introduce himself into the American market, a feat which though advised by many people, had little to do with whom he was. Rubén’s interpretative job is so convincing, that it may lead to confusions. This movie was produced in New York with Latin money, production, direction, script and actors. As a result of his performance he was offered a number of short roles in important productions, so he moved on to California where he gradually acquired a measure of prestige as an actor as he appeared in movies with Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg and Jack Nicholson. His first important role was offered to him by Robert Redford in “The Milagro Beanfield War”, in which he played the town’s sheriff.
His career as an actor started to gradually grow in importance eventually giving him a protagonist role in “Dead Man Out”, where his portrait of a killer on death row gave him the Best Actor Award in movies produced for cable television. Through the same medium one should highlight his acting in the mini-series “The Josephine Baker Story”. Among his recent interventions on the movie screen we find The Two Jakes (1990) Mo’ Better Blues (1990), The Super (1991), Crazy From The Heart (1991), One Man’s War (1991), Latino Session (1992), Miracle on I-880 (1993), A Million to Juan (1994), Color of Night (1994), Scorpion Spring (1996), Chinese Box (1997), Roots of Rhythm (1997), and The Devils Own (1997).
In 1990, Son del Solar recorded a farewell album directly from Lonestar Roadhouse, in New York, ending a stage which, while representing creation and achievement for the group, it was also a phenomenon which permitted the circles of Latin music to go beyond that which until then they had been reduced to, influencing not only the Latin musical panorama of the seventies and eighties, but also future generations of musicians and the public which, as will be observed, made it possible for Afro-Caribbean music to reach a place unforeseen in those days not only as an escapist and festive manifestation, but also as a social and cultural expression. And, of course, also as enjoyment and fun.
In 1994, Rubén Blades decided to run for president of his country in an effort to create and bring into relevance a social and democratic movement already existing in his country but until then ignored. His political militancy is based on the fight against social injustice and the defense of ethnic, cultural and social minorities. Rubén explains that, “at no moment did I think I was going to become president or anything of the sort, but if I would have been, it would not have been through a desire for power. What we attempted was to bring to the fore the existence of an important sector of the Panamanian population that disagrees and cannot identify with the policies applied to them. My political campaign fully achieved that purpose”.Rubén Blades inaugurated the decade of the nineties signing a contract with Sony Music International, A&R Development New York, a feat which opens a new stage in his career. His last album, “Caminado” (Walked), “Amor y Control” (Love and Control) and “La Rosa de los Vientos” (The Rose of Winds), conform a trilogy where his opus definitely moves towards the universalization of the rhythms and styles typical of Latin music. In his most recent album, “Tiempos” (Times), Rubén Blades has given another step in his effort to “culturize” and enhance Latin rhythmsto this effect he did not hesitate to incorporate elements of contemporary classical music as a base to his whole display of genius, originality and compromise, musical as well as social. The result is an exceptional album that no doubt will make history.
In 2004, the president elect of Panama, Martin Torrijos, named Blades Tourism Minister, overseeing the Instituto Panameo de Turismo (IPAT). Blades said that he would stay away from his artistic career during his appointed period.
In 2015, Rubén Blades released an independently produced album titled “Son de Panamá.” It is a tribute to Panama, featuring the Panama-based Orquesta Robert Delgado.
“Son de Panamá” is a reflection of my eternal gratitude for being Panamanian, and the pleasure it gives me to declare it publicly once again,” said Blades. “Those of us who work on that album believe in our country and in our individual and collective capacity.” The product we are presenting to the public has a stamp printed with that confidence, and is the result of discipline and professional dedication, fundamental elements that allow you to compete successfully and gain support and recognition from the public, locally and internationally, while addressing issues that are universal, such as domestic violence, politics, corruption and poverty. ”
Also in 2015, Blades starred in “Fear The Walking Dead”, a new zombie series produced by AMC. Blades played the role of Central American migrant Daniel Salazar.
Son De Panamá (Ruben Blades Productions) won the Latin Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album in 2016.
In 2016, the video The Return Of Rubén Blades was released in Blu-ray and digital formats. The film is Robert Mugge’s portrait of Ruben Blades. In early 1985, Mugge decided was fascinated by Ruben Blades. At the time, Blades was the darling of American rock critics thanks to release of the 1984 Elektra album Buscando América, Blades’ most successful attempt at “crossing over” into mainstream Anglo acceptance.
The release of Buscando América, with its intricate Latin dance rhythms, its rocklike intensity, and its poetic, Spanish-language reflections on the often-turbulent relationship between the U.S. and Latin America, showed Blades to be a major cultural force. But what made him so much more “interesting” as a film subject was that, simultaneously, he was starring in a highly autobiographical independent film titled Crossover Dreams which he himself had co-written, was earning a Master of Laws degree (LL.M.) in International Law from Harvard Law School, was publishing political essays in both Spanish and English, was splitting his time between the U.S. and his native Panama in anticipation of future political ambitions, was reading scripts for additional acting roles in the hope of improving the image of Hispanics in Hollywood films and TV series, was touring internationally with his superb band, and was planning ever new material he hoped would further dissolve barriers between the English-language and Spanish-language music industries. As a documentary filmmaker seeking to capture the life and career of Rubén Blades on film, Mugge saw his own biggest challenge as simply keeping up with this seemingly tireless potential subject.
Mugge and his crew spent the spring and summer of 1985 shooting the following: a concert by Blades and his band Seis del Solar at New York City club S.O.B.’s (Sounds of Brazil); an interview with Blades at his New York City apartment; a conversation between Blades and author Pete Hamill in a New York City park; Blades’ graduation from Harvard Law School (including conversations with his mother and his dean); a Spanish-language recording session in Los Angeles featuring Blades and guest vocalist Linda Ronstadt; a joint interview with Blades and Ronstadt (who was then contemplating recording her own albums of Mexican songs she learned at home as a child); and a trip by Blades to his hometown of Panama City. In Panama, Blades was filmed on the balcony of his new high-rise apartment overseeing his city’s changing landscape, in front of the bank where he once worked as an attorney, joining his father for a visit to the neighborhood where he grew up, in a courtyard discussing his intention to run for president of Panama one day, and walking along the Panama Canal discussing the sometimes tense relations between his native and adopted countries.
In the three decades since this film was made, Blades has accomplished much of what he set out to do, including (1) becoming a respected actor in Hollywood and independent films and television series; (2) continuing to serve as an effective political essayist and activist; and (3) continuing to record and perform powerful world music with both Spanish and English lyrics, and winning several Grammy Awards and Latin Grammy Awards along the way.
From Panama To New York (Alegre Records, 1970) Metiendo Mano! (Fania Records, 1977) Siembra (Fania Records, 1978)
Ruben Blades Con Los Salvajes Del Ritmo (Tucuso Records, 1979)
Maestra Vida – Primera Parte (Fania Records, 1980)
Maestra Vida – Segunda Parte (Fania Records, 1980)
Canciones Del Solar De Los Aburridos (Fania Records, 1981)
The Last Fight (Fania Records, 1982)
El Que La Hace La Paga (Fania Records, 1983)
Mucho Mejor (Fania Records, 1984)
Buscando América (Elektra 1984) Escenas (Elektra, 1985)
Crossover Dreams (Elektra, 1986)
Doble Filo (Fania Records, 1987)
Agua De Luna (Elektra, 1987)
Nothing But The Truth (Elektra, 1988)
With Strings (Fania Records, 1988)
Antecedente (Elektra, 1988)
A Conversation With Ruben Blades About Nothing But The Truth (Elektra, 1988)
Live! (Elektra 1990)
Buscando America (Elektra, 1990)
Caminando (Discos International. 1991)
Entre Amigos (Ritmo Records, 1992)
Amor y Control (Columbia, 1992)
Tras La Tormenta (Sony Tropical, 1995)
La Rosa De Los Vientos (Sony Tropical, 1996)
Tiempos Sony Music 1999)
Ganas (RReMark Records, 2000)
New Morning Mambo (TIM The International Music Company, 2002)
Mundo (Sony Discos, 2002)
Encuentro (Reyes Records, 2002)
Span (AIX Records, 2004)
Nothing But The Truth (Wounded Bird Records, 2007)
Cantares Del Subdesarrollo (Rubén Blades Productions, Inc. , 2009)
Siembra Live (Fania Records, 2010)
Todos Vuelven-Live Vol 1 (Ariel Rivas Music, 2011)
Todos Vuelven-Live Vol 2 (Ariel Rivas Music, 2011)
Eba Say Ajá (Ariel Rivas Music, 2012) Todos Vuelven Live (Ariel Rivas Music, 2012) Tangos (Sunnyside, 2014) Son de Panamá (Ruben Blades Publishing, 2015)
The Bootleg Series Volume 1 (Subdesarrollo Records, 2015)
The Bootleg Series Volume 2 (Subdesarrollo Records, 2015) The Bootleg Series Volume 3 (Subdesarrollo Records, 2015) Salsa Big Band (Rubén Blades Productions, 2017)
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis featuring Rubén Blades – Una Noche Con Rubén Blades (Blue Engine Records, 2018)
Salsa and jazz swing come together in a superb collaboration between the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and salsa star Rubén Blades, plus additional musicians on Afro-Cuban percussion and backing vocals.
Rubén Blades demonstrates why he’s been one of the top salsa singers for years. Not surprisingly, he also shows great talent as a jazz crooner. The repertoire on the album combines various Rubén Blades salsa hits such as “Pedro Navaja,” “Patria,” and “El Cantante,”along with jazz standards like “Too Close for Comfort” and “Begin the Beguine.”
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in this occasion was led by bassist Carlos Henriquez, one of the rising stars of Latin jazz. He grew up listening to Rubén Blades. “His albums, and the sound and the warmth they generated, filled my family’s apartment at 146th and Brook Avenue in the Bronx, and his music was one of my earliest influences.”
Although Rubén Blades stands out throughout the album, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s musicians contribute remarkable solos on trumpet, trombone, flute, piano and percussion.
The musicians on the album include:
Reeds: Sherman Irby on alto saxophone and soprano saxophones; Ted Nash on alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Victor Goines on tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet; Walter Blanding on tenor saxophone; and Paul Nedzela on baritone saxophone.
Trumpets: Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, Marcus Printup, and Wynton Marsalis.
Trombones: Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw and Elliot Mason.
Rhythm Section: Dan Nimmer on piano; Carlos Henriquez on bass; and Ali Jackson on drums.
Lead vocals and maracas: Rubén Blades.
Special Guests: Eddie Rosado on backing vocals; Bobby Allende on congas, backing vocals; Marc Quiñones on timbales, backing vocals; Carlos Padron on bongos, cowbell; and Seneca Black on trumpet.