A Resurgence Of Rubén Blades

A few days ago, last Saturday to be exact, I found myself seated in a quite dark room in a populated area in downtown D.C. It was a rekindle of sorts, or perhaps a fastidious lingering to stimulate my senses with a stream of visuals projected in a gargantuan screen. Daniel Espinosa's "Safe House" jumped out in the glare of my iPhone while swiftly scrolling through Fandango. Once I glanced at the characters' list, Denzel Washington seemed to be a valid enough reason to consider the film. Also, the story synopsis seemed appealing. The deadpan silence momentarily existing at the film's commencement was obstructed with a hoodrat' skirmish on the last row over apparently a mere seat. Luckily, she was escorted out, along with the other suspect of Hispanic origin, by a bevy of burly men clad in navy blue uniforms and black bullet-proof vests, bearing the name "Police" in yellow letters festooned on their backs. The fixation of my eyes to what was unfolding on screen never lost its focus. 

It wasn't even Ryan Reynold's toned specs of flesh passing through my eyes, when I casually lower my vision to the bottom of the screen and I mentally read "Rubén Blades" as the credits were passing by. Those two words inadvertently preoccupied my mind with childhood memories as Reynolds was divesting of his shirt and stepping into a running shower. What an inhibited moment of puerile infancy retrospect met with suggestive homoerotic imagery. I was really there for Denzel, but Blades made a pleasant, unexpected appearance. 

I was able to comprehend the fist-fighting, action-condensed story line of my first Espinosa film, and marvel at the typical, hat-tipping performance of a Hollywood Royalty constituent, but after the movie came to an end, I started to ponder upon the intrinsically familiar, yet apparent long-muted name Rubén Blades. I was bemused for a moment. It was unbeknownst to me the man could act, let alone display, albeit brief, a decent, bonafide, believable portrayal of a document forger residing in Cape Town named Carlos Villar (drawing similarities with Adolfo Kaminsky), and trade lines with someone the caliber of Washington and Reynolds. I will later learn, belatedly, the man has been part of hefty blockbusters including Stephen Hopkins' "Predator 2" and Robert Rodriguez's "Once Upon A Time in Mexico", and one of the ultimate TV series, The X Files. So then, when one considers this man's accomplishments; Minister of Tourism of Panama from 2004-2009, Harvard graduate, Grammy-award recipient, and legit Hollywood actor -- it's befittingly apropos to catalogued him as one of great Latin America's multifaceted performers. 

Growing up in Lima, Rubén Blades was constantly being played in my living room. The windows, wide open, letting out the distinctively cooing voice of Blades, accompanied with slow thuds of conga drums loudly emanating from the black stereo constructing a lively background to any salsa party. The man was being equally praised, if not as much as Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colon, and his ballads, laden with social and political messages established a connection with the peruvian public. I vividly remember chanting to Amor y Control with cousins, and I even knew, albeit no longer, every single lyric from Plastico ("ella era una chica plastica..."). One that carved a hole in my psyche was Pedro Navaja, a narrative that tells the story of the life and presumed death of a panderer of the same name (navaja means knife or razor in Spanish) in New York City. It was his rendering of Pedro Navaja (video above), performed in a fully realized, beautifully decorated stage that might've imbue Diego Rivera, in which he brilliantly fuses his hip-swinging inducing sounds, the art of story telling, live performance with the theatricality of a play that takes his work, and the salsa genre, to a different level. I mean, the man has senior citizens showing off on stage! (Betty White not included).  

To my world-citizens, non-latin fellow music enthusiasts, you're welcome. 

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