- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

NEW YORK Many composers of Latin love songs basically are heirs to the legacy of the romantic troubadours. Ruben Blades' lyrics are inspired mainly by facts of contemporary life and sometimes can be as shocking as reality itself.

His "Pedro Navaja," a sinister song about a Harlem hood and a murder he commits, hit the top of the charts in 1978. It was the first single from Mr. Blades' second LP, "Siembra," which broke all sales records for salsa.

Mr. Blades sees himself as a descendant of the itinerant poets of the Middle Ages, the minstrels who took the news from one European town to another in their verses.

"The minstrels were the ones who told the stories of what happened in a community. The main difference is that in the Middle Ages, the itinerant poets walked from one town to another to tell their stories, and we do it through records and concerts in different places," he says.

"In more modern terms, I could say that I am a kind of musical newsman, because I write my lyrics about things that happen in our reality, things that could be nice or not. Because I think that music, beyond being entertaining, also should be able to confront things… . I think that music should not only aim for our feet or hips, but also for our head."

Mr. Blades was born in Panama in 1948 to a Cuban mother and a Panamanian father. He finished school there and in the mid-'60s enrolled in the Law and Political Sciences Faculty of the Panamanian National University. At the same time, he started his musical career by singing with several local bands.

In 1968, he traveled to New York, contacted some of the big names of the salsa scene and cut a record with the Pete Rodriguez Orchestra. In the following years, he shuttled between the United States and Panama while recording albums and appearing in Hollywood films.

At the close of the 1980s, he earned his master's degree in international law at Harvard University. He was defeated in the 1994 presidential elections in Panama, where he ran as a candidate for Papa Egoro, the party he founded.

He debuted on Broadway in 1997 in Paul Simon's "The Capeman." Mr. Blades won a Grammy this year for his Latin-pop album "Tiempos."

His recent films include "The Cradle Will Rock," directed by Tim Robbins and starring Susan Sarandon, Vanessa Redgrave and Emily Watson, and "All the Pretty Horses," starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz, to be released later this year.

Mr. Blades will play a hospital manager in "Giddeon's Crossing," a new ABC-TV series starring Andre Braugher that is scheduled to debut this fall.

"I wasn't thinking of working in TV, because nowadays I'm concentrating on my music," Mr. Blades says. "But we Latins are so badly represented in the movies and on television that because the character was well-written I decided to participate in the series."

He also is preparing his new record, a combination of music from Ireland, Scotland and India as well as Cuban and Latin American rhythms.

"It's a very interesting mixture, and we have invited the likes of Elvis Costello, Phil Collins and other artists to join in the project," he says.

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