Ruben Blades
Ruben Blades

Singer, actor and political figure, Ruben Blades was born on July 16, 1948, in Panama City, Panama . From an early age, Blades was exposed to music through both of his parents. His mother, Anoland Bellido de Luna, who was born in Cuba, sang and played the piano. His father Rubén Blades Sr. was born in Colombia, played percussion.

His grandmother also had a great influence on him. During his adolescence, his family was relatively poor. At that time there was also political turmoil in the country, particularly with the issue of the Panama Canal and relations with the United States. He had grown up on U.S. culture and rock & roll. But in 1964, 21 civilians were killed and hundreds wounded in student riots, by U.S. soldiers, when students tried to fly the flag of Panama next to that of the U.S. at Balboa High School. This event was traumatic for the nation, and deeply influenced Blades.

"They turned friends into enemies. Even today, that's the pity of U.S. policy in Latin America."

It opened his eyes and, like many in Panama who had previously been pro American, he started to ask political and social questions. After this "political awakening," he continued his studies and eventually entered the law school at the University of Panama.

Meanwhile, his musical inclinations prompted him to sing with some musical groups such as El Conjunto Latino de Papi Arosemena. He performed occasionally with both Los Salvajes del Ritmo and Bush y sus Magnificos, and sang on recordings by both groups. But pressures from the university professors forced him to abandon singing for a while.

In 1968, the university closed due to riots, so he traveled to New York City and contacted Pancho Cristal, Cheo Feliciano's producer. Cristal had heard Blades sing in Panama and offered to get him together with the Pete Rodríguez Orchestra to make a record. From Panama to New York was released in 1970 but didn't attract much attention at that time.

Despite continuing political and economic problems in Panama, Blades returned to the country to finish his law degree when the university reopened.

Immediately after graduating, he joined his family in Miami and then again to New York, to further develop his music. He took the only job available at Fania Records in New York, as a mailboy. ~ Music of Puerto Rico