Latin American icon Rúben Blades, who helped revolutionize the New York salsa music movement in the 1970s, has managed to lead a prolific decades-long career while keeping many parts of his life private or under the radar.
Some, for example, might not realize that aside from penning the Latin American classic song “Pedro Navaja,” Blades has also had acting roles in more than 30 films, worked alongside greats such as Diane Keaton and Robert De Niro and now portrays Daniel Salazar in AMC’s “Fear The Walking Dead.” Others might not know that he’s earned two law degrees, created a political party in his native Panama and ran for president of the Central American country.
That’s why with the South by Southwest premiere of Ruben Blades Is Not My Name,” the documentary about his life, Blades said he hopes to finally set the record straight.
“I wasn’t keen on cameras following me for a documentary,” he said at a featured session on Wednesday afternoon, where he was interviewed by NPR Alt.Latino‘s Felix Contreras. But “when you have more of a past than a future,” you need to share your own story, the 69-year-old star said.
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Blades pushed the salsa music boundaries when he wrote songs about social issues instead of the escapist songs that dominated the genre at the time. “I didn’t write to get famous,” he said. “I wrote to tell meaningful stories.” Even though his songs weren’t commercial and often weren’t played on the radio, people still connected with his music. “Not everything needed to be escape music,” he said. “I wrote because I was upset (at current events) even though it wasn’t considered healthy for a musical career.”
He said Gabriel García Márquez called him a “cronista.” Blades agrees. He said he always thought of himself as a “newspaper man” chronicling life through his songs. He credits his grandmother who taught him how to read at an early age for being a voracious reader. It’s what he said helped him develop his own songwriting and editing style. He also credits law school for learning how to see both sides of a story and writing based on facts. “Never think that the audience doesn’t get it,” he said.
The ability to relate to his lyrics, he said, has helped new generations embrace his music. In the next chapter of his career, Blades plans to focus on recording music and has several projects in progress such as a son Cubano album, as well as a rock/pop/reggae album. He’s co-written a screenplay with Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and hopes to team up with René Pérez Joglar, also known as Residente for a album about social commentary.
Although his career might have taken a different path, Blades said he’ll keep moving forward.