Rubén Blades stood out for providing meaningful lyrics to many songs, such as “Te Estan Buscando,” “Plastico” and “Decisiones.” Blades, who came from Panama, recorded the single, “Pedro Navaja,” a song that is considered as an all-time great when it comes to Salsa music.
His first successes were in collaboration with Willie Colón and Ray Barretto. This talented lyricist and vocalist was influenced early on by his parents, who were both musically inclined. He influenced Salsa music not only with his lyrics but with his arrangements as well, replacing Latin percussion and wind instruments with drums and synthesizers. He earned the nickname “Latin Bruce Springsteen” for his innovativeness. Early influences for Blades was the group Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. In fact he was singing North American pop and rock songs in his pre-teen years and was the lead singer of the Saints, a band formed by his brother. The political upheavals in Panama during his time led him to sing only in Spanish. While pursuing a law degree he continued to be involved in Salsa music and was with Conjunto Latino y Los Salvajes del ritmo band and later, with Bush y los Magnifícos.
Blades went to the United States when his university was closed by the government. Together with Pete Rodriguez, he recorded an album called “De Panamá a Nueva York.” He soon went back to Panama to finish his university degree when his school reopened. He joined Banco de Panamá (Bank of Panama) as a lawyer but visited his parents who have immigrated to Miami and soon found himself in New York. He joined Fania Records, the record label that became famous for making Latin music its focus. A year after his arrival in New York, he became the vocalist in the band of Ray Barretto, replacing Tito Allen. He later was named the band leader of the band, which he renamed “Guarare.”
Blades’ composition “Canto Abacua” led to him being selected by the Latin New York Magazine as composer of the year. He sang and recorded the single with Barretto. Blades was with the band of Willie Colón for six years. During that time, he made numerous contributions to the band, including the album “Siembra” that sold 3 million units. The album’s single, “Pedro Navaja” enjoyed the highest sales in Salsa music’s history.
He formed a new band called Seis del Solar in 1982, churning out a fusion of Caribbean, reggae, rock and Latin music. They released their debut album, “Buscando América” in 1983. In 1984, he enrolled for his master’s degree in international law at Harvard. He also collaborated with other artists to create movie soundtracks. While he regularly sang and recorded albums in Spanish, he recorded one in English in 1988, singing songs by Sting, Elvis Costello and Lou Reed in the album “Nothing but the Truth.”