Ruben Blades is a Panamanian artist of Cuban and Colombian descent. He tends to be best-known because of his five-decade music and acting career. However, Blades has been involved in a wide range of other pursuits.
Some have been artistic, as shown by his stints as an actor. Others have been much more surprising. At one point, Blades ran for the Panamanian presidency. He didn’t win, but he was the second runner-up with a bit more than 17 percent of the votes.
Later, he was named the country’s minister of tourism, a position he held for half a decade. Still, Blades remains most famous because of his musical successes, which are numerous.
Here is our opinion of the ten best Ruben Blades songs ever released:
10. “El Cantante”
Artists are like everyone else in some respects. For instance, some are prone to self-reflection, while others are not. “El Cantante” suggests that Blades is one of the former rather than one of the latter.
The song’s viewpoint character expresses that he is just another person when he isn’t singing, meaning he experiences ups and lows like other people. Still, he is dedicated to his chosen art, which comes through loud and clear in the final verses.
“Sorpresas” means “Surprise.” This is a narrative-driven song that more than manages to live up to its name. That is because it tells the story of a thief who meets with a fatal surprise when trying to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune.
Of course, “Sorpresas” wouldn’t be as enjoyable without Blades’s characteristic skill, which was already well-honed by the time of the song’s release in 1985.
Considering Blades’s time as a politician, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that his music can be political. “Tiburon” means “Shark.” The title is unfortunate because it leans on the stereotype that sharks are tireless, remorseless killers.
Still, it is understandable because it came out in 1981, which would’ve been just a few years after Jaws became the first summer blockbuster in 1975. Regardless, “Tiburon” isn’t about a literal shark. Instead, it uses the animal as a metaphorical stand-in for the imperialistic powers that seek to exploit Latin American countries.
The song presents its listeners in a much humbler light, though it stresses that they can do great things so long as they are united.
7. “Todos Vuelven”
“Todos Vuelven” is one of those songs with extra interpretable lyrics. Its general sentiments are clear enough. There are expressions of love, loss, and unity. However, the exact meanings are more uncertain, meaning there is room for interested individuals to offer their thoughts on the matter. That is a good thing rather than a bad thing. Sometimes, it is nice to listen to a song that encourages us to exercise our brains for a bit.
6. “Juan Pachanga”
Strictly speaking, “Juan Pachanga” is a Fania All-Stars song. That name refers to a musical group that exists so that Fania Records can show interested individuals some of its top talents. Of course, Fania All-Stars include Blades, who made a return in the 2010s. “Juan Pachanga” is a fascinating song in which the viewpoint character urges the titular individual to forget his ex because he is suffering from his self-destructive lifestyle.
5. “Buscando Guayaba”
“Buscando Guayaba” sees the viewpoint character searching for fruit. However, it seems safe to say he isn’t just searching for fruit. Some people might recognize the song even though they have never heard it before.
After all, “Buscando Guayaba” is a song in Disney’s Oliver & Company. Sadly, its lyrics were never in the movie itself, though they did show up in the soundtrack. That said, Oliver & Company was never the most popular of Disney’s animated movies, so even people who grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s might have missed it.
4. “Pedro Navaja”
“Pedro Navaja” came from Siembra, an earlier studio album than the one that featured “Sorpresas.” Despite this, the lyrics suggest the song’s central character is the same as an important character in the other. His gold tooth is unmistakable. Furthermore, both songs emphasize his skills with a knife. Siembra featured a great deal of social commentary, one of the points that made it as successful as it was. Considering some of the wording in “Pedro Navaja,” it seems safe to say that was a part of the intent.
3. “Pablo Pueblo”
“Pablo Pueblo” came from Metiendo Mano! in 1977. That release was notable for being the first of four collaborations between Ruben Blades and Willie Colon, a relationship that seems to have soured in later times when the two sued and counter-sued each other. In any case, “Pablo Pueblo” is another song with strong political sentiments.
It is centered on a poor, working-class man caught in a bad situation that he will never be able to escape from. Some of the lyrics suggest that the politicians have failed him, which gains increased meaning when one realizes that Pablo Pueblo is about as generic a name as it gets. The first is the Spanish version of Paul, while the second means “town.” As such, Pablo Pueblo seems to be a stand-in for the everyman.
2. “Canto Abacua”
As mentioned earlier, Blades is of partial Cuban descent. Specifically, he is Afro-Cuban, which has had a fair amount of influence over his music. For instance, “Canto Abacua” refers to Afro-Cuban fraternities derived from counterparts in the Cross River region of Africa.
Much is unknown about their practices because these are secret societies. Even so, more than one Afro-Cuban artist has drawn inspiration from these fraternities for their works. Blades is one of them. Moreover, “Canto Abacua” is one of the most remarkable.
Chances are good that interested individuals can guess the general gist of “Plastico” just a few verses in. After all, there is a long-established tradition of using plastic to criticize modern materialism and related issues.
As a result, people should have no problem picking up on things as soon as the song mentions plastic girls, plastic boys, and plastic couples ruining themselves in their efforts to maintain their hollow status. “Plastico” is a moving lament for how things aren’t the way they should be. Unfortunately, it remains relevant in many respects even though it came out in 1978.
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