If there’s anyone who personifies the “eclectique citizen,” it’s Ruben Blades. Yesterday, my friend Dawn and I arrived 3 hours before he was to give a public interview covering his life as an artist, citizen, and just plain old human being at the Carmichael Auditorium in the National Museum of American History and Culture. The program was presented by the Smithsonian’s Latino Center as part of its special focus on Panama.
Sure the 3 hour arrival may have been a bit excessive, but Ruben Blades (English pronunciation because it’s his English grand father’s name) is one of the very few artists I will go out of my way for. I’ve stood 5 1/2 hours outside and inside the 9:30 Club for his concert. A Ruben Blades concert is something one should experience at least twice in a lifetime if possible.
For those who don’t know much about him, though Panamanian by birth, he made a huge splash on the Borican salsa scene in the 1970s as a singer and composer under the Fania label – the gold standard for Salsa. Why the White House didn’t present any fabulous Fania artists in its salute to Latin Music last October puzzles me to this day. But then Emilio Estefan (of Miami) was asked to “curate” that event by the social secretary’s office; and being the business man, Estefan more than likely had an opportunity to stack the deck with Sony label artists under his charge. I guess there are no hard core salsa or Latin music fans up in the “people’s house” who would’ve insisted on at least one Fania all star. [Note: Ruben Blades is on the Sony label.]
Ruben Blades’ music reflects “the life” (read it’s joys and perils, triumphs and injustices). Ruben doesn’t set limitations on himself. Something encouraged by his grandmother back in Panama. He’s run for president in Panama, served as Minister of Tourism, has appeared in Hollywood films as an actor (not himself), has a law degree from Harvard, and is now about to pursue a Ph.D. at Columbia University in Sociology to work on “fixing the system” as a citizen. Ruben said he enjoyed working in government, but the bureaucracy is set up to “benefit corruption and mediocrity.”
I didn’t get a photo with Mr. Blades. As tradition serves, fans (many from Panama and all ages) stormed the stage and the two lines for autographs and photos were merging. Even a new born had its moment when he or she was plopped into his hands. But the 3 hour wait did have its benefits. Ruben has always struck me as a people person. During a concert, you’ll see Ruben signing autographs, snapping pictures while the band is smoking on stage behind them, and then gracefully he’ll go back up to the mic and hit his mark right on cue without missing a beat. Ruben gave all of his steadfast admirers a firm handshake on his way inside the Carmichael Auditorium for the sound check. It was not the polite or passing by handshake for the fans, but like a real person. I’ve gotten a lot of information about a person based on a handshake, the eye contact, the body language. Which is why I went out of my way to go to Denver for this guy….
The President gives us the week in review in his weekly address. A very big f**king deal of a week. And to top it all off he made 15 recess appointments held up in the Senate for months.
When you’ve got the ball, you gotta run with it.