Legendary Panamanian singer-songwriter, Ruben Blades, who is hailed as one of the most important Latin American voices of his time, will perform one of his last Salsa music concerts this weekend in Coral Gables.
But for the 68-year-old composer, the performance — part of his farewell tour, “Walking, goodbye and thank you” — is not a funeral for his career.
“This is not the end. To the contrary, it’s the beginning of a new direction for me and I think the public will understand it better, musically, when the new productions I’m working on now start to appear,” Blades said in an exclusive Miami Herald interview.
“I think most of what I wanted to express within the [Salsa] genre has already been expressed and that’s why I’d rather say goodbye now when I can still perform a quality show, to the level that we’re accustomed to. But I’m also very excited for all that’s to come and looking forward to walking in new directions.”
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For now, he’s imagining a future as bright as the trajectory preceding him. He’s working on the production of a boleros album with Costa Rican group Editus and in the process of recording another album titled “Mixtura,” which will showcase a fusion of several musical genres including rock and pop.
“An album I worked on with Medoro Madera is already recorded — it’s only missing the vocals — and an album of my songs recorded with Brazilian group Boca Livre is already complete,” Blades said. “I’m also recording Volume No. 2 of ‘Son de Panama’ and we’re expanding the sound of Roberto Delgado’s orchestra to a real Big Band sound.”
He’s also dreaming up the recording of a Bluegrass album.
The list of dreams, plans and projects is long. That’s why Blades says that this tour is not the end of a story, it’s only the end of a very thorough and happy chapter; a chapter for which he says he can’t thank his fans enough. And that’s what this tour is mainly about: gratitude.
This does not mean that Blades, whose music career has spanned more than four decades, has always received praise. Controversy has had a special place in his life as an artist.
Blades, who has penned internationally renowned songs such as “Maestra Vida” and “Pedro Navaja,” has openly spoken about political issues, has written socially and politically charged songs such as “Tiburon” and took public office in his native country as head of tourism during the government of Martin Torrijos (2004-09). In 1994, he ran for president of Panama and there have been talks of the possibility that he may run again in 2019.
But Blades, who holds a degree in law and political sciences from the University of Panama and graduated from Harvard with a degree in international law, has never let controversy affect him.
“When a person tries to do things differently, it will always produce controversy,” Blades said. “Public figures will always be exposed to criticism and slander. When I criticized civilian and military dictatorships and pinpointed errors in the policy of the United States’ government, it caused me difficulties, especially in places like Florida.”
And although he recalls a time when he was banned in Miami and Havana, the crooner says he feels happy, at peace.
“Popular music should tell the life of the city, the people who live there; from my early beginnings that’s what I always tried to do, tell the stories of the people, tell everyone’s stories because I am a journalist,” he said.
“I’m a chronicler. As writer Gabriel García Márquez once said, ‘I try to write honestly about things that others short change.’ I separated myself from what was the norm and from my corner I provided commentary on the city, the country and the world.
“Right now, I’m healthy, I’m still writing, I’m still recording and working. And that, I will never take for granted. I will always appreciate it.”
If you go
What: Ruben Blade will perform with Panama’s Roberto Delgado Band and New Yorican singer Victor Manuelle
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The BankUnited Center, 1245 Dauer Dr., Coral Gables
Ruben Blades on the small screen and in Hollywood
▪ Blades plays Daniel Salazar, a Salvadoran barber who protects his family at all costs, in the “Fear the Walking Dead” series, which debuts its third season Sunday on AMC.
▪ In the movie “Hands of Stone,” which chronicles the life of legendary Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran, equally legendary trainer Ray Arcel and the relationship between them, Blades takes on the role of Carlos Eleta, Duran’s manager. The film opens in theaters on Friday. Blades also composed the song “Champions” with the American singer Usher for the soundtrack of the movie.
▪ Blades is in the process of writing the first draft of a film based on his song “Maestra Vida.”