Rubén Blades Discusses the Future of Latin Music and His Legacy of Advocating for Social Change


(audience applauds) – Hi friends. My name is Jay Wegman I welcome you to Skirball. I’m the the director here
and it’s great to have you. It’s Skirball Talks, it’s
our Monday night series every Monday at 6:30. Next week we’re having Angela Davis. And this night though
it’s a very special one with Rubén Blades and his hat. So I am going to introduce Stella Flores who will introduce this evening. Stella is the associate
Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity at Steinhardt
which is a college here in NYU and take it away. – Thank you. (audience applauds) Hello everyone I just grew one feet. Can you see that (laughs)? In the world of diversity I’m
not judged for my size so. (audience laughs) It is such an honor to be
here tonight for this event. So good evening (speaks in Spanish). It is a great honor to be here with you. I just said that if that my
grandma and mom were here they would not be able
to contain themselves. In fact I have had a hard
time containing myself. Being around Rubén , I was just aiming for a
photo and I have had (laughs) (audience laughs) I have had actually
much more than a photo, we’ve had his generosity and his time and I have to say this is the
best job I’ve ever had so. (audience laughs) So we are here to celebrate
not only diversity at NYU, but also social change. And to understand what the arts can do not only for the individual
but for the world. And Rubén represents all of that and more. So many people made this happen today in particular I wanna thank
our Dean Dominic Brewer who is sitting here in the side. Thank you, Dom. (audience applauds) And our Vice Dean Pamela Morris, when I came into her office
and I said I have an idea and I think we should really do this and Carlos Chirinos who’s moderating was the one that brought
us this great idea Charlton Mcwayne who set
the stage for us last year, so lots of people contributed to this and we thank you for being here. Before we get to the main event, I do wanna introduce Lisa Coleman who is our inaugural senior
VP for Global Inclusion and Strategic Innovation and
Chief Diversity Officer at NYU. She’s responsible for advancing
strategic global inclusion, belonging and innovation initiatives across NYUs global campus and schools. She’s the new heartbeat
of diversity for NYU and through her generosity well hopefully we’ll keep
doing more events like this. So putting her on the spot here. But we’re really excited to
continue working with Lisa and so she’s gonna say a few
words on behalf of Central NYU and then we’ll get on to our main event. So thank you again. (speaks in Spanish) And we’ll see you in a
just a bit more, thank you. (audience applauds) – Good evening. I’m Lisa Coleman and I’m
really pleased to be here with you all this evening. Thank you to everyone
who’s made this happen. I’d like to just take a moment. There are a lot of people who have taken a lot of energy and time to put this evening’s program together and there are people who are what I like to call the unseen workers, the caterers, the people
who set the room up, who clean the room, all of those things. So if we could just give
them a round of applause (audience applauds)
and thank them for their work. I’m a proud NYU alumn, I’m returning. (audience applauds) So I’ve been here for a year now and I’m learning a lot about NYU and what I’ve learned
is I love Steinhardt. (audience applauds) I mean I love all the
schools but of course. Steinhardt is doing some amazing work and when I look around
NYU and I think about and people have asked me
why did I come to NYU. NYU is a bold, innovative, diverse and inclusive institution. I come from a family, a
musical family actually. My family was from New York. My dad could listen to music like literally listen to it and play it on the piano or the guitar. My mother plays acoustic
classical Spanish guitar. Right. (audience laughs) My brother plays six instruments. The violin, the drums,
the guitar, the piano. My grandmother was a jazz musician who played in between New York and Chicago and when I was growing up
she used to say things like little Al Capone, he used
to call me brown sugar. And she would talk about Nat King Cole ’cause she didn’t like him so much. (audience laughs) And so these are the stories that I was regaled with as I grew up, stories about New York and about music and about love and transformation and what music can do. So one of the reasons I’m
so happy to be back at NYU is because this is an institution that really believes in the creative and the possibility of what we can do with the creative imagination, and what music can do and
what stories we can tell and how we can transform lives and transform people. We are at a challenging times and as we know even the
events over this past weekends of which were very disheartneing but what we know about music is that it can bring
love, it can bring peace, it can bring community,
it can bring healing. So I am so glad and
fortunate to be here at NYU, at an institution that is
all about those things. It is about again diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity, innovation, and it is about us coming
together as a community. I really do love NYU and I’m
certainly happy to be here and working with the leadership team like Dominic and the other Deans who really value this kind of work and of course our President Andy Hamilton and our Provos Kathy Fleming. To all of our leaders
thank you for the work that you’re doing during
these challenging times to bring and educate our students and of course to our faculty thank you for all the work that you’re doing to bring programs like these to our students. The arts, music, education. We are here to tell stories
that will change our nation. Rubén has been with us
for a little bit now and he is been doing some
tremendous work with the students. In fact just behind the
stage earlier tonight, he is already helping a
student produce a song. He’s only been here like three days. (audience laughs) So this is the kind of power. The power of higher education, and the power that we can bring when we bring artists to our community and we can make and transform the future of tomorrow with our students. Thank you for being here tonight and thank you, Rubén, for
everything you’ve done, will do and continue to do for all of us. (audience applauds) – See, I’m so tall (laughs), sorry. I’m not used to being above this. (audience laughs) Are you guys ready? Yeah? (audience cheering) Okay. So before we get to introducing
our Renaissance man, Rubén Blades, I wanna introduce
to you Carlos Chirinos whose clinical music and Global
Health Associate Professor and Director of the NYU
Music and Social Change Lab. Carlos is a friend but
he’s also quite a genius cultural embassador in terms of music, in terms of art, in terms of
always advocating for students. Making sure women are represented where whenever we say something well we should get this
person and this person Carlos always says well don’t forget about making sure there are women involved, and I’m like okay yes thank you I think about that too. I love that Carlos really makes an effort to also make sure there’s
representation throughout music. So Carlo’s work explores
innovation and creativity in emerging global music industries and he looks at the role
of music and public health, international development
and social change. He’s been a key consultant
for radio and music projects in Europe, Africa, and Japan with funding from the he
World Bank, USAID, IDRC, The Welcome Trust, and
the Toyota Foundation. He was awarded Directors
Teaching Prize at the SOAS, The University of London in 2009. You can see why he’s such
a great fit for Steinhardt but also to really shepherd our Steinhardt inaugural scholar in residence. So please join me in
welcoming Carlos Chirinos. (audience applauds) And he’ll be out in just a second. (audience applauds and cheers) So I know this man needs no introduction but for those of you who are new to NYU (audience laughs) or new to Latin music or new
to ever going to a movie. (audience laughs) Rubén Blades is a 17 time
Grammy Award winning musician. (audience applauds and cheers) Three time Emmy nominated actor, activist lawyer and
politician from Panama. He has also
(audience cheers) been in 35 films and three television series. He has three Honorary Doctorates from Berkley College of Music, University of California, Berkeley, and Lehman College in the Bronx. (audience applauds and cheers) And I have to say one of
the most wonderful things about Rubén is how generous he is, how kind he’s been. He’s got a work ethic that can challenge anyone in this world. The man doesn’t stop. He doesn’t stop teaching
but he doesn’t stop learning and ladies and gentleman that’s why he’s our perfect
pick for this university. So please join us in welcoming. (audience applauds and cheers) – Thank you (speaks in Spanish). – Welcome Rubén Blades. – (speaks in Spanish). – (speaks in Spanish). (audience applauds and cheers) (speaks in Spanish)
– No, no, no. (laughing) – Well we’re gonna do this
in English and in Spanish. A little bit in both, okay? – We wanna thank the people who don’t speak Spanish for
being here also thank you. (speaks in Spanish) Thank you for being here. – So before we start I want
to point your attention to a series of images that
are going to appear behind us. And those are being curated
by the great Pablo Iglesias. Please give him a round of applause. (audience applauds) There are images here that
even Rubén hasn’t seen before. So, Rubén (speaks in Spanish), can you tell us what’s the deal with your is it Blades or is it Blades? And can you tell us about your origins? – First of all, I’m sorry to disappoint some of you (speaks in Spanish) my
grandfather was from he came from the West Indies Santa Lucia, Saint Lucy. He was English, so the original
pronunciation is Blades. And actually this was
never an issue in Panama. Panama everybody called
me hey Blades, Blades. (audience laughs) so it became an issue afterwards
when I became more known as some people told that I was
trying to anglicize my name and I understood the whole
thing about Blades vs. Blades because I always for instance
I always said (speaks Spanish) (audience laughs) I never said Vicks VapoRub. (audience laughs) So I went to many pharmacies
and said I like Vick vaporub and they looked at me.
(audience laughs) And said, “I’m sure you do.” (audience laughs) You go to a supermarket you
ask for (speaks Spanish) and they look at you.
(audience laughs) And then you say Tide. I understand that, what I
tell people is I personally it doesn’t matter, it
doesn’t hurt me in any way if you say Blades and I myself now say (speaks in Spanish) Blades so no one will be offended. – We can see at the back
a photo of your father. – Oh yeah. It’s that handsome guy over here. – (Carlos) So how come
you started in music? – Well you know I mean there’s an argument about it being genetics had
something to do with it. My mom was also a musician,
a full time musician, singer, better singer I’ll ever be. And a piano player, and my
father was a percussionist. But as it happens in so many families that have been working in music, my mother didn’t really finish school. My father didn’t finish school. So they really wanted me and my brothers and my sister to go to school and have a better future and experience than the ones that they had as musicians. They were proud of me of the fact that I sang the first time I ever sang in public was with my mother, Anoland. And her artistic name in
Panama was Anoland Diaz. And she presented herself,
she had a show in Panama on Tuesdays when television began. I remember she used to make $20 per show and which was like a
fortune for us at the time. The first time I ever sand
in public was with my mom. She backed me up in the piano but that didn’t mean she
wanted me to be a musician. So they were torn themselves
you know what I mean? ‘Cause they felt proud that I could sing and then at the same time
they said don’t get any ideas. (audience laughs) So that’s who I got it from. – So you went to school in Panama? – Yes.
– What did you do? – Well I loved school. I mean my grandmother I have to say that the schooling in the house I think family, mother, father, grandmother are so important. They were so important to me because they really are the ones that deserve all the credit. My grandmother spent a lot of time with me ’cause my mom was working, she was also a soap radio actress in Radio Panamericana in Panama, she was a radio actress in those days. There was no television, just radio. And my father was working,
my mother was working so my grandmother was in charge of me. And she taught me how to read the house. I remember my father found
out that I knew how to read I mean he was like stunned. You know I was sitting next to him, he was reading the paper and I
was waiting for him to finish and I was standing in there like you know and he said what do you want? I said I want the paper. (audience laughs) He said what do you want the paper for? There’s no comics. I said I’m not gonna see the comics. So what do you want the paper for? I said I wanna read it. And who told you you can read? (audience laughs) And I said I can read. And he gave me the paper,
said read that and I did and he was like who taught you to read? And I said your mother, my grandmother. (audience laughs) I was four years old, five years old. So anyway I always loved
reading and learning so going to school when I went to school you could only go to school
when you were seven years old, that’s when you went to school first grade I mean the teachers didn’t
know really what to do with me because I knew a lot of stuff. I was very shy but I knew a lot of stuff. And so I always loved going to school. – And you also went to college in Panama. – Yes, we went to the university. There are narratives that and this is one of the reasons why I’m beginning to be a little bit more open about my background and my life and whatnot ’cause I’m very private but then you find that people don’t know you are defining you and that really pisses me off. (audience laughs) I had to say and I’m trying
to set the record straight as much as I can at times. my family like I said
my mother and my father they were working people, we come from working class background. And I went to the University
of Panama, it was free. It was free. And when I was like in second year I think second year or third year they started charging per semester and I paid $20 per semester. So the thing that was most
expensive were the books, you know there weren’t that many books and we had to like copy
them from whomever had it or when we went to study
when we went for the test I mean I took a lot of
notes in the classroom but we usually if somebody had
the book and I didn’t have it what we would do is split it in half and he would or she would
start from the bottom down and I would take it from the top to the half and then change. But when I became a lawyer some people think that I became a lawyer because my father was a lawyer. My father was a bongo player who then turned basketball
player then turned detective. (audience laughs) So you know. We bought lottery like
everybody did in those days. I still do. (audience laughs) Never win. (audience laughs) (laughs) Most I got in the Lotto is $4. (audience laughs) So we come from working class background and I mean I went to school and then later on I went to Harvard. ‘Cause it’s a kind of long story. Anyway my family left Panama in ’73 because of a problem my
father had with the military so I graduated in ’74 I was working with people
in jail at the time. My thesis was on repeat criminals and I was working in the jail system and Coiba was a pinal island at the time. Coiba is the biggest island in the pacific American Pacific. And it was a penal island. And I went there several times and the last time I went to do the final interviews with the 60 guys that I’ve been following for like three, four years and then I finished my thesis, I presented it and then I left Panama I went to my family that
was in Florida at that time. – And that was in 1974. – 1974. – Can I take you back a
few years before that? – Sure. – Because at that time you graduated from Universidad de Panama as a lawyer. – Yes. – But five years earlier you
came to New York in 1969. – 1969 when the military
closed the university. – But that was also the time when you recorded your first album. – Right. – And that album which we can see there De Panama a Nueva York. – I had the longest sideburns
in western hemisphere. (audience laughs) – But the first, I think
it’s the first song of father that album is a song about a guerrilla fight. What inspired you to
write about social issues? What inspired you to
write about Juan Gonzales? – My decision to write about social issues was very much influenced
by my grandmother. Again, ’cause she was a defender of women rights at the time. And when my grandmother was in Panama women didn’t have a vote. Women got to vote I think
in Panama in 1940, 41, through Arnulfo Arias precidency. So she was very adamant about rights and I grew up with that in mind, the need to demand justice and to expect justice. So it was my formation even the books I read I read a book Sam Livowits a Jewish lawyer from New York he represented the Scott Boro boys. I remember I read that
when I was about 12 or 13 and I was very touched
by the fact this man went all the way to the
South to defend these boys that had been unjustly accused of raping a white woman in the South. And I thought you know this is
what law should be, justice, and so all of that inspired me and all the songs that I
was listening to in 1965 a friend of mine Anel Sanders who was a member of the first
group I ever worked with when I was about 16 years old my mother and my father alloowed
me to play with these guys. El Conjunto Latino de Papi Arosamena. Anel Sanders was playing
the bongos and timbles and he was a friend of my family’s so they felt okay so Anel will
be there keep an eye on him. You know, make sure he doesn’t smoke weed (audience laughs) you know does anything wrong. So if I did well in school then I could go and be with them. So Anel gave me introduced me to a Brazilian group in 1965 called Jungle Trio and in the songs that he showed me there were two songs that one was, Medino De Larangues and the other one was
called, Tejas Geningane. And they both had to
do with social issues. The first was a kid who who was selling oranges to help his mom and the second one was about people who didn’t have a place to live. And they were both social themes that were presented in the
context of popular music, I never heard that before done before. So that also played in my decision to start writing about social issues and use music not just as
a way to escape reality but document it and at the same time formulate an opinion and a proposal. (speaks in Spanish) (audience applauds) I find that that’s more the direction. And anyway Che Guevara was killed in ’67 so the figure of Guevara not as Guevara but as someone who fought against what he perceived to be
unjust and unjust system I think rang a bell with
many people at the time. And aside from politics because I didn’t want
to write about politics I’m not an ideological
writer, I detest that because that’s propaganda whether you go to the extreme of the left or the extreme of the
right it’s propaganda, not interested in that but there’s an archetype which is the person that will like Zapata, Emiliano Zapata for me
is the best example. So Zapata was the guy I had in mind but Guevara was killed in ’67 so the asociation is okay ’67 and this album comes in ’69 but really the figure
that I had was Zapata only because Z was a more pure figure. Zapata was not inspired by
any ideology but justice so I came up with that song in my first album I wrote
seven of the eight songs or eight of the nine songs I don’t rememver how
many songs there were. The other song was written
by a friend of mine who was playing with me in a band called Los Salvajes del Ritmo. (audience laughs) And he was studying medicine and his name is Roberto Sedeño, to this day a good
doctor and a great friend and he wrote that song and
I included it in the album but the opening record was Juan Gonzalez this guerrilla guy got
killed fighting dictatorship. – And there is a very interesting
anecdote about that song in Panama, what was that? – The thing is that as you may understand I mean if you go back to 1960, ’62 the only countries that didn’t have a military dictatorship in America I think were the United States, Canada, Mexico, Uruguay and Chile. – And Venezuela had Perez Jimenez. Right it was just freshly
out over that time. If your first album has to do with somebody who poses
military dictatorships you’re not gonna get air play. (audience laughs) So the album was like
a disaster commercially so nobody was playing the record and I was more concerned
about not being arrested because if you hear the song the first thing I did in the song the song begins like this (speaks in Spanish) the song you’re gonna
listen is based on fiction any similitude with people living or dead is just a coincidence. So I figured you know
when they come after me I’ll say but didn’t you hear it’s fiction. (audience laughs) That’s why it started like that ’cause the people in New
York here when I recorded said why did you start the song with that? (audience laughs) It’s like an apology,
you’re like apologizing. I said trust me I know what I’m doing. (audience laughs) But funny because nobody
cared about the record nobody cared. And then one day a
friend of mine in Panama one of those guys that you know but you don’t know their name, but you just know them
(audience laughs) actually I spent my life knowing nicknames there’s guys that to this
day I don’t know their names I know their nickname. Chopipa.
(audience laughs) No idea. Mono Huerfano.
(audience laughs) And you just know these guys and that’s the nickname. In the neighborhoods nobody
wanted to give their own names so in case somebody came asking for them you wouldn’t know who they were. So anyway this guy came over and he said congratulated me for the record you know I thought he was kidding me and I didn’t said anything and he said that the song Juan Gonzalez, I said what about the
he song Juan Gonzalez? He said it’s a very popular song. I said no it’s not. He said well that’s the
song they play the most at the officer club of
the Guardia Nacional. (audience laughs) That scared me
(audience laughs) I said like really, why? First of all you know
what how do you know this? And he said well I work with the company that owns the jukeboxes where they put the music so I go and am the one
who collects the money from all the jukeboxes in
all the bars in Panama City. And I said really, that’s what you do? He said yeah, I didn’t know you worked. (audience laughs) So he’s like well that’s what I do and I said oh that’s interesting and so and he says when I collect the money I look at each song, A1, A2, A3 and A1, okay (speaks in Spanish) how much money, how much money? And they say Juan Gonzalez. The most money it makes. And I said, I still don’t get it. I said, but why? He said, it’s a song about a
guy who’s killed by the army. And he said, yeah. And I said, why would they play that song? That song’s, it’s a mourning
song for this person. And they said, well they just play it because there’s a part on the song where I say like (speaks in Spanish) And I said, but that’s
just one part of the song. He said, well that’s what they wanna hear. (audience laughs) And that part was, the guerrilla died with
him, a sergeant screams. And that was it. Put a dollar on that thing
just to hear that part. (audience applauds) So that’s an anecdote. And I thought, how weird is that? Maybe that’s why I never
got called by anybody, but they maybe thought that. Again, military intelligence.
– [Carlos] Yeah. (audience laughs) – I don’t know. That’s what I think. I don’t know, I had no clue. I’m just relieved. (audience laughs) – So your early years are very big. But we’re now going to get started. This show is gonna get really good. You come back to New York City in 1975. ’74/’75.
– I came to New York, I’m trying to figure out exactly when. I think it was ’74 from what I gather. – [Carlos] Yes.
– ’74. As soon as I graduated, I didn’t go to my graduation in Panama. I didn’t go ’cause my
mother couldn’t see me, my father couldn’t see me. Because they were exiled. So I just took my diploma and I registered it with the Supreme Court to get my (speaks in Spanish) to be a lawyer in Panama. Registered it, and left. So I remember that my friends made like, they were doing parties about me leaving, and I never left, you know? So one day I did leave, and
then they were surprised. ‘Cause where is he? He’s left, oh he did? He did go, oh. So I went to Florida, and I was there. And my family was going
through a lot of trouble. So I didn’t know what to do. My diploma meant nothing there. I couldn’t be a lawyer. I didn’t have papers. I didn’t know what to do. And they were going
through a lot of hardship. The only thing I thought of was called New York Fania. The Fania was the biggest
label in salsa music. And I had written a song that had been recorded by Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz. Called Guanguanco Guearo. In ’69, I gave it to them. And then they recorded
I think two years later. And it went okay. And then Ishmael Miranda
had recorded a song called Los Esquinas Son, in 1974, I believe, ’75. So I figured, I called Fania and I said I’ve written for
Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, and I wrote for Ishmael Miranda and I’m wondering, I can go
there and write other songs, and I can sing, and they say, no thank you. (audience laughs) And I went okay. And almost hanging up, I went, is there anything
there that I can do? Any job, you got any job? And they said, you know
it’s funny you ask. Right now there’s an
opening in the mail room. And I said, in the mail room? Meaning what do you do? And they this and that and this. And I said how much they pay? They said $125 a week. And I said, I’ll take it. And I took it. I don’t remember how I got to New York. My guess is I took a Greyhound. ‘Cause that was cheaper than a flight. And I came to New York, and I started working a
mail room in Fania in 1974. – At that point Ray Barretto
came to see you, right? – Well Ray Barretto had a great band. And then the band broke. That’s when Alberto Santiago
with some of the guys went in and formed Tipica 73. So Barretto then organized the band again, and got a great singer. One of the guys that I think is one of the best singers
in the business bar none. His name is Tito Allen. And Tito Allen had a great
record with Barretto, Indestructible. And he had a great song
called El Candado Y La Llave. A wonderful singer. And then he left the band. So at this point, Barretto
again has to form a new group. I believe this is ’74. And somebody had seen me
perform (speaks Spanish) during carnivals. The law forced opera
motors who were bringing bands from abroad from New York to have bands play with them in the shows. So I play with (speaks Spanish) And it was the weirdest thing. The guy, Tuti Lagi, who was the leader of (speaks in Spanish) he didn’t want original songs. ‘Cause everybody, they didn’t
care about original songs. They wanted to hear the songs that were being played on the radio. So he chose Barretto. So he took all these songs of Ray Barretto and we adapted them to our sound. And carnival’s come and who do
you think we’re playing with? Ray Barretto. Which was very embarrassing. As embarrassing as the
shirts that we were using which were really ugly. I remember to this day those shirts. So Barretto was right there. We would play a song
that we copied from him, and then he would play the original. (audience laughs) It was like terrible. So I think that he sort of… But I’ll tell you something. I’ll tell you all something. You think this is what I learned. I remember one night,
we’re playing carnivals. Orestes Vilató, who’s
like top percussionist. Orestes Vilató. Orestes was playing with Barretto. And we were playing one of the songs that Orestes had recorded with Barretto with Barretto’s band. And Orestes was standing right in front of our (speaks in Spanish) Catalino. all night looking at him, you know? Which I would assume that
made Catalino very nervous, but Catalino was playing. At the end of the set. When Catalino was coming
down, Orestes called Catalino and ask him, there was an effect that Orestes did with Ray
in the original recording. So we’re copying it. So you listen, and listen, and listen, and then you do it. And Orestes asked Catalino,
how did you do that? And Catalino looked at
Orestes and didn’t understand. He said, what do you mean? I did what you did. And you know Orestes said,
yeah but I over dub it. And I’m sharing this with
you because ignorance can make you do things
that are impossible. (audience laughs and claps) So Catalino from Panama
copying what Ray was doing, did something that Orestes
had done, but over dubbing. That means I do, cha cha cha cha, and I go (clicks tongue) cha cha cha. But you don’t do that (clicks tongue) you can’t do that, and he did it. So that’s why Orestes said, how the hell did you do that? (audience laughs) And again ignorance can be helpful. Because ignorance will make you not think you can’t do something. – So in the mid-70’s you started. – Well we were called to an
audition by Ray Barretto. And I went. And some people, like
I said, said that guy used to sing in a band in Panama, and he writes songs and whatnot. And Ray came to talk to me. And he was very intrigued
by me, I have to say. ‘Cause he had found out
like I was a lawyer, and then he’s like,
what are you doing here? And I had to like talk. And I don’t know. He just looked at me like. He said, okay we have
an audition on Saturday at the Corso Club on 86 and 3rd. And I went there and there
were other guys there. And at the end, Ray chose Tito Gomez who just got to New York from
La Sonora Ponceña, and myself. And then so he had singers, if one leaves, I got another one. Back up. So I started with Ray. And my first show (laughs)
my first show in New York. I didn’t quit my job in the mail room. I did not. I was making $35 with the band. So, yeah. $35 if I played between Sunday and Friday, and $38 on Saturday. So sometimes we’d make $73, and I was making $125 in the mail room. And I’m sending money to my mom basically. So I’m eating a lot pizza and Coke. And I have no furniture, but any way. (audience laughs)
The first show. The first show that I had
in New York City, folks, was in Madison Square Garden. (audience cheers and claps) Was July 26, 1974. And I walked out there and there were 2000 people in the garden. And I was like stunned. And I was like wow, and
I forgot the lyrics. (audience laughs) I did the first verse, and
you know there’s that panic that sets in once you understand that your mind has left you. (audience laughs) And it’s somewhere in the
room, but not with you. And you think, I’m gonna die here now. (audience laughs) So (speaks in Spanish) (audience laughs) And I said, what you’re
not gonna be quiet? And I repeated the first verse. I don’t think anyone
noticed, and if they did, they’ve had a long time to get over it. So that was my first show. – So we have a lot to go through. And I want to ask you
about a specific song. You started a collaboration
with Willie Colón. That gave us probably some of the best, no some of the best, but definitely the best salsa
records that are out there. – (speaks in Spanish) (audience applauds)
– I don’t know if you guys agree.
(audience cheers) But one particular song
that appeared in this album, is the song called Pedro Navaja. (audience cheers) So Pedro Navaja is a story that we heard that Gabriel Garcia Marquez one wrote that he had wished he
had written that song. Can you tell us about
that song and a little bit about your relationship
with Garcia Marquez? – Well the first time I heard anything related to the figure of marqute was Bobby Darin did a version
of Mack The Knife in 1959. Bobby Darin. And I remember I heard it, and I loved it. I didn’t know what the lyrics meant. In those days you’d hear a song. First of all, in those days like I said, we didn’t have a record
player in the house still. It was some people, I
think one or two families had a record player, but
they didn’t talk to us. (audience laughs) So we couldn’t hear
records in those homes. And it was very hard to get the lyrics. Because the radios. You never knew when they
were gonna play that song. So you catch a thing here and there. But I loved it. Just in time, Scarlet Billows took me like I don’t know how many years
to understand what that was. I’d never really (hums) scarlet billows. What is that, scarlet billows? I don’t know, but you
say it, scarlet billows. So I got the melody in my head. In Panama in those days, 1959, we had two street gangs that were in the papers all the time. Las Zapatillas Negras. Black Sneakers. Los Dientes De Oro. Golden Teeth gang. So that was in my head. And when I came to New York, the pimps on 42nd Street. That’s where the (speaks in Spanish) the jacket comes in because you wear a (speaks in Spanish) in Latin America, you’re gonna die.
(audience laughs) Yeah. It’s very funny because in Panama they used to sell coats
with (speaks in Spanish) (audience laughs) They used to sell that’s
some kinda sheet that is. It grows in the tropics. It’s a sheet that doesn’t make you sweat. That doesn’t exist. (speaks in Spanish) So anyway (speaks in Spanish) is also from the pimps here. So I put all those things together. And what I did was that I
kept the cord structure. ‘Cause I liked it. And I liked the tension
of the half tone growing, moving as the song moves. But I created a different
story, and a different melody. Because I didn’t wanna do the same thing that Darin had done. And then I went back, the
maquete comes from the opera, Vagabond’s Opera. John Gay, that’s I think
18th century I believe. And then Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht took it in and did The Threepenny Opera. And that’s a figure of maquete. This other guy, he’s just
a guy from the street. And the reason that I
wanted to do the song amongst other things
was to change a format. And I don’t think many people
noticed this at the time, the songs at the time,
women were always victims. They were the fall, like
they say, the fall guy. Women were attacked and nothing happened. In this particular song,
the woman is attacked, and she defends herself. And not only does she defend herself, but she actually shoots the
guy, and has the last word. ‘Cause she says to him (speaks in Spanish) I thought I had a bad day
but (speaks in Spanish) (audience laughs) So it was one of the few examples of a woman standing up to aggression. In her own terms, and not
being the fall person. And then the absurdity of it all. Like a drunken person
bumps into the bodies, and ends up collecting
somebody else’s misfortune. And then thanks God. As if God is like a partner in this thing. It’s like, thank you. And I think that (speaks in Spanish) was the thing that really hit on everyone. Because it’s true, life
is full of surprises. You never know what’s gonna happen. And I think that that just touched a cord. And the fact that also that someone who thought they had the goods on you, somebody who thought they had an advantage ended up not having it at all. And I think that that’s one of the secrets for this song to have survived. Because at the time,
nobody played the song on the radio because it was too long. It was like seven and a half minutes. So they hated this song, actually. It wasn’t like a hit right away. That’s not true. I also wanna say Luis Perico Ortiz from Puerto Rico did the chart. And the purists, the salsa purists, attacked us and myself. Because there’s a break
in the (speaks in Spanish) At some point. (Rubén vocalizes) And we did it on purpose. I asked Luis to do it on purpose. Because I wanted the dancers to stop and think about what was happening. And the idea was that something
had happened on the street. So I want you to stop, and go back to it. ‘Cause I want you to reflect
on what was going on. So it was done on purpose. And I say that for Luis Perico Ortiz. (audience applauds) Yeah. ‘Cause I think Luis is a wonderful ranger and he deserves to have that clarified. – Then a few years later,
you wrote this album. – We were dressed by the way. (audience laughs) We all had pants on. (audience laughs) – And you had your story with Fania. Which we’re gonna touch here. But this is your first
album as a solo artist. And this album has a song
called, El Padre Antonio. What inspired you to write that song? We know it, but we wanna hear it from you. – Well at the time, I mean the song. Arnulfo Romero was murdered in 1980. It really, really made me so angry. What had happened, and what was going on in Central America at the time. Central America was considered to be a sort of a proxy war
between East and West. So as they tend to do, everyone who opposed the right wing military genocidal
regimes was a communist. A subversive of some sort. And anyone who said anything that didn’t adjust to the line at the time that was the Regan years. That Central America was
a fight against communism. So, it was supposedly someone
who supported communism. Which is not the case, but that’s why some
people said at the time that Óscar Arnulfo Romero was a communist. And they that of me, and
they said that of whomever that didn’t toe the line at the time. And I wrote the song because I was very very upset
with what had happened. And because I also felt,
and I still do to this day, I think when you write songs,
these songs at the time that you were writing
these songs, the songs. People who were being
subjected to the rigors of what was happening would understand that they were not alone. I didn’t write these songs for me. I wrote them as a way, I guess for me to a degree
in terms of my anger. And need to express it, but
also to let people understand that they were not alone. And that’s why this (speaks in Spanish) was in it as well. And (speaks in Spanish) But Padre Antonio was just to let them, at the time it wasn’t
known only for Romero. Rutilio Grande had been killed in ’79. The Monjas Maryknoll had been
killed, raped and then killed. The Jesuits priests were killed as well. So in Salvador, like 2000
people were killed a month. It was terrible. Many people don’t remember that. I felt I wanna write a song about that. And then the curious thing is, of course. This is 1980 that’s 38 years ago. And now Romero has been declared a saint. (audience applauds) So God, you know? It took a while. ‘Cause the Vatican wasn’t very happy with him either in the beginning. Didn’t support him. But, you know. (speaks in Spanish) I’m glad that his
sacrifice was recognized. And it was a revolution that he had. Which really made it all
the more poignant for me. And what I meant to do with the song was to present not just, again, Romero but the idea of people who are willing to put their lives on the
line for truth and justice and solidarity with others. – So your musical life
has been like a film, but you also have a career as an actor. And we’re gonna show you
some images here now. – Oh God.
– About your first film. Can you tell us a little bit, how did you wind up being an actor? – I guess vanity. (audience laughs) At the time the only chance
you had to be in something that looked like a movie was MTV. I never liked videos. To make videos. Because as a writer, I want people to exercise
their imagination. When you do a video, you
eliminate imagination. Pedro Navaja, you don’t know
if he’s white, black, brown. You don’t know if he’s fat,
or thin, or tall, or short. You don’t. You imagine. Pedro Navaja. He could be oriental. Who knows? You make it in your mind. So I knew I wasn’t gonna be doing videos. And then Jerry Masucci, God bless him. Was the president of Fania. He wanted to do a movie. He wanted to be a producer. So he came up with this idea. Willie Colón and I were at the time doing well for the company. So he figured, okay we’re gonna do a film, and Rubén is gonna be a boxer. But a boxer who sings.
(audience laughs) ‘Cause we need an album out of this. (audience laughs) And Willie is gonna be
Rubén, the boxer’s friend. Who’s also like sort
of (speaks in Spanish) So he’s like gonna be the manager. And then, you know, anyway. So we did it, we did an album
that was sort of a soundtrack, but wasn’t very good. Although there’s a couple of songs (speaks in Spanish) is there. Which is I think a nice song. Rescued that song, I rescued that song. And Yo Puedo Vivir del Amor which an adapation of something
written by Jose Feliciano. And not Chel, but Jose
Feliciano (speaks in Spanish) And the movie came out. I saw it. And I thought, I’m never doing this again. (audience laughs) I didn’t like it. I mean I thought it was okay, but I wasn’t like, oh wow! So I said I’m not doing this again. And then, I saw a movie by Leon Ichaso. Who’s a Cuban film maker. He did a movie called El Super in Spanish. Which is probably Spanish and English, probably the best movie I’ve
ever seen about immigration. A Cuban exiled in New York City. And he did this movie. And then I met him, and I told him how wonderful
I thought the movie was, and it was all Latin. And it was, I think,
one of the first movies ever done in New York
with everything Latin. And the money, $35 000
it took him to do that. And he said, I’m doing another
movie, I want you in it. And I said, no thank you. And he said, no it’s a
movie about a musician that’s in the salsa business
that’s wants to go across. I said, worse no.
(audience laughs) I don’t wanna play that,
they’re gonna think it’s me. The thing is, he convinced me. As friends do. And I admired him, and I still do today, and I thought, okay so I’m gonna do this. And then I did it, and at the time, there was a guy who wrote
for The New York Times, who had a tremendous influence. His name was Vincent Canby. He was a critic. And he gave us a good review. And then there was a funny thing happened. Somebody named Sam Comb who at the time probably was the agent,
Hollywood agent period. He thought that for some reason, he though that I was great. So he came over and he
wanted to talk to me, and I didn’t know who he was. And I went and had a meeting with him at the Russian Tea Room. I’d never been there. I had to borrow a jacket. (audience laughs) And a tie, and I went and I sat with him. And remember. First thing I noticed
is he was eating paper. He was eating the napkins. Yeah. I’d never met an agent before. (audience laughs) So maybe that’s what they do. (audience laughs) I did think it was strange, and he didn’t offer me
any so I’m very glad. So anyways, so I left there, and I thought what am I getting into? But the thing is he signed me
with a very important agency. ICM at the time. And then, I began to work
just because I admired people. I didn’t look, most people
would look at the script. Make a decision based on the script, and the character, and the director. I’d just go, who’s in it? Whoopi Goldberg. Oh I wanna work with her! (audience laughs) Yeah but this is little role
over here, I don’t care. I wanna work with Whoopi.
(audience cheers and claps) And then I ended up working
with different people, and then this is from The Capeman. So my career has been kinda strange. I did get some good roles every so often. I got role in a HBO movie with Danny Glover and Tom
Atkins called, Dead Man Out. And I played a death row inmate. It was an examination of
the morality and logic of the death penalty. And I got an award as best
actor for that at the time. (audience applauds) Thank you, but the story of that, it’s a long story so I can’t tell you. But I tell ya it was the first time that a latino was nominated for that. The other nominees were John
Lithgow, Jason Robards Jr, Frank Thomas, Ben Kingsley, and myself. And I was very surprised. So my acting life, three Emmy nominations, been kinda like strange, but I got a lot of fun
on that, I gotta say. – Something that I found in your film, especially the film, The
Milagro Beanfield War, but also something that comes across in your current TV show which
is Fear The Walking Dead, is that you seem to play
the role of the equalizer. You’re kind of leveling the game. It happened in that film where
you were Sheriff Montoya, in the the Milagro Beanfield, but it’s also happening
in the current series. So this seems to be kind of a thread. You just said you don’t pick
them based on the script, but you end up being this character. – Some of them, I mean, as I got older, I got more discriminative
of what I chose to do. ‘Specially also because of my time. I tell you one thing I didn’t do, and I missed on some things. Sidney Lumet once offered me a role, and Sidney Lumet to me is one
of the directors of all time. And Sidney offered me a role
in Q&A, and I turned it down. Because the role, I was
supposed to play a drug dealer, and I told him, I’m not gonna do that. I know it’s not gratuitous,
but I’m not gonna do it. (audience applauds) And I have to say, I
have to say I regret it. (audience laughs) Because I would have played it. But then, Sidney Lumet, I mean who knows? I thought I had another break, but even then, Sidney Lumet said to me, okay darling, I understand
and respect that, but then you know what,
do the music of the movie. So I did the music for Q&A. So I did work with him. I did get to work with him. But you talking about this. Yeah, I like roles where I’m challenged. When Redford offered me, Robert Redford. This was his second film. His first film he did, Ordinary People, he won and Oscar for. Then he went with this,
The Milagro Beanfield War. And Redford offered me the lead role. And I said, no I don’t wanna do that. And he was very surprised. He said, why, most people wanna lead. I said, I’d really rather do this role. He said, well that’s a supporting role. I said, I really like this guy. (audience laughs) And he said, what do you like about him? And I said, he’s in the middle. He’s trying to make sense of things. The other guy is like, it’s
more like a Greek tragedy. He’s like determined by the Gods. That this is what you’re gonna do. This guy is like in the
middle of the thing. Not knowing to go this way, or that way. And I really feel that that’s where the tension and the drama is. I’m more interested in that. And the same thing happens
with Fear The Walking Dead. I’m playing somebody who comes
from the wars in Salvador. In Central America, the ’70’s and ’80’s, and he has created a new personality, running away from the
things he did in the war. When he was apart of the
army, and the groups there that were involved in
oppression at the time. And he’s now in Los Angeles,
and he’s become a barber. And he’s just having
this underground life. And all of a sudden
the world goes to Hell. And every single thing falls out. And it’s a great… Fear The Walking Dead
makes very valid questions. What would happen if society
as we know it today disappears? Religion, law, family,
everything disappears. What would we do? What would we become? So I like that this is a flawed character. And not an ideal. As an actor it just
forces you to go places. And as a person, it makes you think about what would you end up? What would you do and not
do in a situation like that? – So your life has been
music, has been films, but we also we kind of
went forward a little bit. You also have a career as
political activist in Panama. – [Rubén ] I don’t if I have a
career, but I’ve been around. – [Carlos] Well you did your bits. – I did run.
– And I want the audience to look at the next image. Probably the next one. (Carlos laughs) – [Rubén ] Yep, yep. – [Carlos] So you ran for
the presidency of Panama. Can you tell us about that experience, and why you ended up. – After the invasion of 1989. Well 1990, they were talking about a return to democracy and all that. I felt that there was a need to consider really a start, a new start. Not just politically, but
for the country as a whole. The price had been very very steep. To this day, we don’t
know how many people died. Clearly in the invasion. And I just felt that, what I saw was that the same structure
that was in position and that had been knocked
down by the military in ’68, when the military decided
that, you know what? The civilians were using
us to steal the elections, now we’re gonna steal it ourselves. We’re gonna do it ourselves. And now we’re gonna rule. What I saw happening in 1990, ’91, was we’re gonna reinstate what was there before the military coup. Which was not, in my opinion,
what the country needed. And I thought we can maybe
try and bring an argument. We can bring the possible structure that is not dependent
upon the powers that be, and the interests that control. So that was the purpose behind
the creation of Papa Egoro. I did not want really at
the time to run, myself. But I had to because the attraction was people wanted to talk to me. They wanted me to be the representative. So I said okay, so we’ll do this. And we made a lot of mistakes,
I made a lot of mistakes. And one of the biggest
mistakes that I made was not to understand that
once you get into this, you really have to be there 24 hours. seven days a week, 365 days a year. And at the same time that
I had to deal with the fact that were looking for a figure. You can not delegate, I tried to delegate. And you can’t delegate. People don’t want you to
give it to anybody else. They want you to be the person. I didn’t get that at the time. And as a result of that, every effort that I did to
try to empower other people sort of backfired. I was accused of not being there. Not following up on stuff. But in fact, what I wanted
was to have the attention go from me to over here. Otherwise, ’cause I did not
want to create chalices. I did not want to create fidels. I did not want to create
(speaks in Spanish) I wanted to create
responsibilty as a group to get involved, and do things, and not just follow men, but follow ideas. And that’s the most important thing. I think. And it didn’t quite work. And at the end, I was
pretty much abandoned. Because I wasn’t working. I wasn’t doing what other
people were expecting me to do. But it was a great experience. And I think even to this day, the thing is that it’s an episode that has not been objectively analyzed. We spent $600 000 in a national campaign. We elected six senators. We came in third out of
27 political parties. We were not given any break by anyone. We were not allowed to really
move the way that we would’ve. And in those days, we
didn’t have social media. But it was a great experience, and to this day I’m
greatful, and I thank God every time that I think about Papa Egoro and the people that supported from Panama, always who will think that
was a high point for us, I hope that we can recoup that moment. Right now we’re going
to elections in 2019, I hope that the independence have a break. And people understand that the corruption that we have right now in the judiciary and the legistary bodies is something that we have contributed to. Because by our clientalism and accepting this mediocrity as representatives and not doing what we’re supposed to do, which is to be
participating in the process in a more vigorous way. – So as we give a final
look to your family photos and some artist’s impressions of yourself. – That’s my mom and that’s Dean Schneider. – [Carlos] I have a question for you. – [Rubén ] That’s my wife, Luba. That’s my dad. He’s 94. – [Carlos] There he is! (audience applauds)
94. My son, Joseph. My granddaughter, Olivia. And Romero. – [Carlos] So as we
look at these pictures, I have the final question for you. Do you think that music is a tool that can help advance social change? – I do believe so. I believe that it can. And it can mobilize opinion. I don’t think the Pablo Pueblo’s problems are gonna be resolved by songs, but I do think that the song can express solidarity
and inform on the issue. I think Pablo Pueblo’s life is gonna be changed
through political action. So that’s one of the reasons why I not only became involved
with the Papa Egoro movement but I also went to Panama
from 2004 and 2009, and participated in
going on for five years. I didn’t do any music,
I didn’t do any films, I didn’t do any touring, I
just worked in the garden. And I came out of it knowing that in fact you can change things from going out. You can. And that thing that
people, everybody says, no politics corrupts, power corrupt. Power does not corrupt, power unmasks. Different.
(audience applauds) Power unmasks. Doesn’t corrupt you. I did not come out of there corrupt because I wasn’t going in. That was not a choice for me. But to the question, can music, and arts, and general change? Absolutely. And I’ll say this. And it’s not just
something that I imagine. It’s just the impact that
it can have on people. I’ll tell you that. From my experience. When I left Willie Colón,
I was told by promoters in this city that I would
never work again in New York. And one of the reasons was that
they were very upset with me because I was trying to create a union. A musician’s union. So I didn’t work. There was only one
group that gave us work. (speaks in Spanish) They gave us an opportunity to work sometimes in a club in the Bronx. It was very hard to find a job here. So, we got an offer to go to Europe. I’m sorry, South America. South America. Which surprised me. Want us to go to Buenos
Aires, and to Uruguay. (speaks in Spanish) I said, but they know salsa there? (audience laughs) So you know what? What do you care? They’re calling you, go. I talked to the band, and
we got to play somewhere. So we had just finished Buscando América. It was an independent album. It ended up being taken by Elektra, but that’s another story. But it was an independent
record, it was already done. Nobody had heard it. So we went over and we played
in Buenos Aires, in 1983. In a gymnasium called (speaks in Spanish) We played with a rock band
called (speaks in Spanish) (audience laughs) And much to my surprise, it was full. And everybody, you know. I often wonder why did that happened. And I think that what happened is with (speaks in Spanish) A lot of the songs that
were played on the radio were in English, were taken out. For obvious reasons. And then there were spaces, and they didn’t know what to do with it. So somebody heard Pedro Navaja and they say they said, play that. And they did, and people liked it. So then they went like,
what else does he have? So all of a sudden, they
started playing my songs. And all of a sudden, we
got called by a hippy guy. His name was Daniel Greenback
and he was like a hippy, and he just took us there. So we went and we played in Buenos Aires. And the dictatorship was
in position at that time. I remember they sent people to tape us. Which they did. It was very funny, ’cause
you had all these people with long hair screaming. They knew the dictatorship was leading. Alfonsín was gonna win. But we were being taped. And he made sure that
we saw him taping us. And it was fine. Weird, but fine. We went to Uruguay. We played in Montevideo,
and (speaks in Spanish) And that was a whole
different ball game there. The dictatorship was in position. They were not going to go the
ways the others were going. So when we played for the
first time, Padre Antonio, in Buenos Aires, the people went crazy. And when the chorus
came, (speaks in Spanish) everybody just, (speaks in Spanish) and everybody was going, yeah! The guys were like with
their arms crossed like this. (audience laughs) They did not move. Anyways, so when we went to Uruguay, I’d never been there, it was cold. I mean for us, Panamanians, when the temperature goes
down to 84, we go to churches. See what the Hell’s going on. (audience laughs) What the world is coming to an end. (speaks in Spanish) (audience laughs) 78, no that’s too cold! So we went over, and I was
very cold in Montevideo. So there was a technician and I said, can I borrow your jacket? And the guy said, what? He may be cold too, this guy. If he had a jacket, I was dying. And I said, can I have a jacket? Can I borrow your jacket? And he lend me his jacket, and it was big. It didn’t fit me well. So I don’t like when
I’m gonna be introduced. I don’t like, (speaks in
Spanish) and all that stuff. And other people that do that, are upset with me, ’cause I don’t like it. Because that’s their
moment to go and say that. And I said, please don’t do that. As a matter of fact, don’t say
anything, I’ll just go out. So I went over, I had
the jacket on the guy. Big huge jacket, I had a beard. People don’t know who the Hell I am. They’d never seen me. So I go out there, and I fix the mic. I’m fixing the mic, and I got
like, hello, hello, hello. Okay, so then I turn around. And the band starts, and I start singing, and everybody goes, oh. They thought I was a technician preparing the microphone
for the star to come. So anyway, so we started playing, and we’re getting a good reaction. I’m feeling good. And then we played Padre Antoino. And what happened afterwards,
I never in my life experienced that ever ever again. When we finished the song, we finished. (Rubén harmonizes) And it was dead silence. Dead silence. There wasn’t like a clap or
a (whistles) or a, “aah!” Nothing. It was just dead silence. And the band, all the guys from New York. They’re going like, hey what happened? And I said, I don’t know. Why aren’t they clapping? And I said, I don’t know. (audience laughs) But you know what? Let’s go with the next one right now. (audience laughs) And in the back of my head, I’m seeing all of us in
the Panamanian embassy. It’s like what’s gonna
happen, I don’t know. We played and we finished and it was fine. And the next day, when we left. When were in the plane, I told the guys, man, I was concerned, I have to say. But anyway, that was
the end of that story. Not quite. Ten years later, I’m in Buenos Aires. I’m doing a movie with Robert Duvall. We’re doing a film out there
called Assassination Tango. And Jaime Roos from Uruguay. Is a wonderful musician from Uruguay. He’s playing, and I had recorded a song of his called, Amandote. So I wanna meet him. I never met him. And I don’t even know what he looks like, but he’s playing in this
theater in Buenos Aires. So I found out the address, I was off. I went and bought my ticket. And then I went to the
backstage, and I wrote a note. And I said, the guy there
looking at me funny. Said, could you please give
this to, and I thought, this is what happens
sometimes when I’m playing. This is the same thing. Said, who the Hell are
you, what do you want? Get out of here. Can you give him this. And the guy said, who are you? And I said who I am, Rubén Blades. And he just looked at
me, and he thought, hm. So he took the note, and then he came out. Jaime. (speaks in Spanish) Oh fine, just said hello, I never met you. No, come in, come in, come in. So he made me go in. And the band was there. And the band is from Montevideo. They’re all Uruguayans. And one of them says to me, hey I saw you when you went in 1983. And I said, you know
I’ve had this question. (audience laughs) I know my band has it too. I said do you remember that show well? ‘Cause I didn’t want to lead him. And he said, yes I do. I said, do you remember what happened with one of the songs that we played? He says, yes I do. I said, what happened? He said, nobody clapped.
(audience laughs) It was dead silence. And I said, did you not clap because they were filming you, or people were concerned if they showed any support for that song,
their dictatorship situation. You would be considered to be subversives? And he said, no, that’s
no why we didn’t applaud. And I said, why didn’t you applaud? And he looked at me and he said, we didn’t applaud out of respect. (audience applauds) So, going back to the question. On whether music can create change, and produce support, yes it can. (audience applauds) – Thank you very much.
– Thank you. – Look out for Rubén Blades
latest album, Medoro Madera, and also the film, Yo No
Me Llamo Rubén Blades, that’s coming to HBO, and is possibly gonna run for the Oscars in the best documentary films. – Yeah, but that’s a
long shot that thing is. – Please give a round of
applause to Rubén Blades! (audience applauds) Thank you very much. (All speak in Spanish) (audience applauds) (audience applauds) (speaks in Spanish) – I’m gonna speak in English.
– Sure, please, please. – Because we’ve had a few
people already talking. I speak both.
– Yeah. – I’m a singer, and I have a new album that I’m working on right now. And given what’s
happening in this country, I’ve decided to do a lot of songs that are about discrimination, about race, about women’s rights. And I just, I feel a sense of unease, and maybe it’s just a little bit of fear of the backlash that might come with it. Even though I’m supporting
all these issues, but I wanted to know, as a musician, can you give us any advice on, I know there was some
backlash for you also. – Yeah, I was 15 years blacklisted the radio stations.
– So what advice can you give to someone who’s about to release a new CD that has these really heavy issues. – I gotta say that the first thing that you have to remember is
that you’re not the only one. You’re not alone. You’re not alone. (audience laughs) That’s the one thing,
that’s the first thing. – [Audience Member] Scary things, scary. – You have people that are gonna be against anything and everything. For whatever reasons. And third, you have to think of yourself as a supporter of one
of the biggest things that I think this
country has ever produced which is the constitution of this country. The constitution of this
country is unique in the world. What this country has done
with this constitution is create the opportunity for people all throughout the world
to come and start anew. And develop a government
that has no parallel. Forget about the
shortcomings of politicians, and what they do, I’m talking
about the constitution. So you’re supporting that
when you express yourself that way that you’re responsibly doing. So you’re not alone. Do it. Do not expect, I never
expected applause, actually. I’m kinda surprised in a
way that I’m still working. (audience member laughs) Yeah, and I’m not placing
myself as a victim. Victor Jara was a victim, not me. (audience applauds) So I’m not comparing with Victor. But I’m saying everyone
in their own measure contributed to make other
people feel less lonely. Which is what you’re doing. Now remember, you’re probably
not gonna get radio play. Maybe. Although now, you can
do it in the internet. It’s not as if they control the world. Even when they did, I did
survive, so don’t worry. (audience applauds) I mean worry, but not that worried. – Let me just say a note, just because I see the line growing. (speaks in Spanish) – But you know what? There’s another thing we
can do, and I would respond. If you write to the email. (speaks in Spanish)
(audience laughs) You know what? You think that I don’t, but I do respond. I do respond. If I’m telling you, I will respond. – You have a question. – Pardon, I’m sorry. – It’s a personal question. Your music is changing. I saw you in concert, in Malaga. – Oh wow.
– Wonderful concert, by the way.
– Thank you for going. – [Woman] No, I went for my birthday. I was celebrating my birthday with you. (voices overlapping) – Sorry. – You gotta get closer.
– I know, I know. – Don’t worry (woman speaks Spanish) – No, no.
(audience laughs) – The concert was fabulous. I really enjoyed it.
– Thank you. – But my question is,
now that you’re older. – I’m 70 years old. – I know.
(audience cheers) – So the type of music that you’re doing is music that you enjoy for instance that you did Roberto Delgado, right? – Yeah.
– And you’re doing Frank Sinatra, and you’re
doing all this Southern music. Is this something that
you always wanted to do, or getting your groove back?
– Yeah. I always liked swing. In Panama, we heard all kinds of music. You know? We had great DJs, they played
anything and everything. So that coupled to the story. My father showed up one day in the house. With this huge thing that
I didn’t know what it was. It was very heavy. Some people in a truck brought it. And then it turned it was a record player. And in the record player
there were like seven albums. And we listened to those
records in the house. And actually material
in those records I used when I performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Four years ago at the Rose Theater. And there’s an album that just came out that came out recently, actually. Of a live recording that we did. And the songs you hear there
are the songs that I recorded, I mean that I heard in the record player. So now as you said, and very truthfully, as you get older, you feel freer. You don’t dress, you cover up. (audience laughs) You know what I mean? And you feel more comfortable with saying, and doing certain things
because you have experienced things enough hopefully
for you to be happier. So right now, what we’re doing is that we’re doing the
Afro-Cuban repertoire with a big band like
Machito did before that and Tito Puente, and Mario Bauza. So now, we’re incorporating songs that I always wanted to do. But I didn’t then. So now we’re doing the repertoire, we’re adding Tony Bennett. We’re adding Sinatra stuff. – [Audience Member] When’s it coming out? – Well the thing I did with
Wynton and the band is just out. And there’s some songs
there with the big band. We’re doing salsa but
we’re also doing swing. It’s very interesting. People liked it, nobody left
the theater when we played. (audience laughs) So and the other album that I’m doing with those songs that you heard in Malaga that is gonna be coming
out, God willing, in 2020. Yeah. (speaks in Spanish) – Good evening Mr Blades. My name is Donna Curtin
from (speaks in Spanish) One of my favorite, favorite
songs is West Indian Man. – Yes. – I’m a first born American
of Panamanian parentage and grand-parentage. And so I’m very interested, and coming to my own in my 50’s, I understand the legacy
of West Indian Man. – Yep. – And hopefully one day
we could share with you, myself and the publisher Louis Vaz. – Absolutely. – We write La Pollera Magazine. – Oh yeah, yeah!
– I’m the La Pollera writer. We speak to the Panamanian culture here in the United States.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah. – Okay? (speaks in Spanish) (audience applauds) – (speaks in Spanish) Nice meeting you. – Nice meeting you.
– And I hope we do get together at some point and yes. And do something, an interview. But talking about West Indian Man. Every time that I played
Panama, and we play. If you read books on genetics, you understand that we all
come from the same place. I tell people if you see a skeleton, you’re gonna see bones that are white. You don’t know if the person
was black, white, Oriental. You just see the bones,
and my position was (speaks in Spanish) (audience applauds) So when I’m in Panama
sometimes and the audiences. I’m tryna bring somethings
out through humor also. So you don’t come up
cross like this person. And I tell people, I know, I know. I see some people hear that have a white tone in their skins, but I hope you understand
that you’re not white. And it makes people
uncomfortable, I gotta tell you. And I said, you know. We’re all from the Caribbean. So the whites and the Caribbean
are a suspicious white. (audience laughs) Because there’s such a mix. So say my grandfather,
he talked like this. And I’m sure that there’s not one family in the Caribbean that hasn’t had a black, or an Oriental person, and
there’s nothing wrong with that. So I bring it up because
when you bring it up then people feel, I guess,
less concerned about something that is such a immediacy. So West Indian Man was a way
of letting everybody know. Like I said, the chorus says, ♪ Granddaddy was a West Indian man ♪ (sings in Spanish) So people go, oh your grandfather was? Yeah. ♪ That is where the Blades come from ♪ You know, what the background was of that. I’m proud of it, whatever his background. Because what I care about my grandfather that he was not a bad person. That’s what I care about my grandfather. – Well I’m gonna let you know that I’m gonna run for first born American-Panamanian parentage. I wanna run for some kind of political position in New York City. – Okay, well good for you,
and I hope I see you again. (audience laughs) (audience applauds) – Okay. – So we only have time
for one more question. That’s the last one. Please (audience member speaks in Spanish) Please. (speaks in Spanish) – [Audience Member] Hi, oh. – [Man] Sorry. – [Audience Member] No worries. My name’s Sofia, I’m from Colorado, but I am Panamanian born. No not Panamanian born,
Panamanian descent. My mother is Panamanian born, but her mother was born in Cuba. But she came to Panama when she was young, and she always tells me
about how when she was young, she was your neighbor. (audience laughs) – Well, first of all,
what street was that? – I don’t remember the information. It sounds like when you were very young. I don’t really remember. She doesn’t really give me
a lot of details about it. (audience laughs)
But she always tells me about how she remembers you. – Well, it’s kinda hard because we lived, first I was born in San Felipe. I was born in San Felipe. In a place that burned down. Is no longer there. It was a (speaks in Spanish) A pension. And then we went to (speaks in Spanish) And I was there for like, three
or four years, five years. And then we moved to (speaks in Spanish) But I ended up in (speaks in Spanish) And that’s where I pretty much grew up. So she might have been there. How old was she? (voice distorted by microphone) Okay, if she’s exactly my age, I don’t think she was
in (speaks in Spanish) Because in (speaks in Spanish) I only saw two girls.
(audience laughs) In the whole neighborhood. In the whole neighborhood,
there were two girls. And they were protected like Fort Knox. (audience laughs) Those girls, you would see like
(blows in to the microphone) Was that girl? Yeah. Oh my God. There were all boys. And the girls, they never came out. So I knew they existed. Because I heard people talk about them. And every so often, we would see them. And their names were Cloelia and Lily. And then in the back, the Keele brothers, they had a Nora, and a Lisia. You know, so that’s the
four actually, four girls. So if they’re not those
four, I don’t know. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. (audience laughs) (audience member speaks away from mic) – I don’t know if you remember. – Sonia?
– Sonia. – Do you remember the last name? – Cubas.
– Cubas. That may be. That may be, that may be. That last name, I do, it does ring a bell. ‘Cause I remember some Cuban
families that lived around. And the reason that we knew
is that they had parties. (speaks in Spanish) So they had drumming, and then they would
invite everybody there. Give her my best. (speaks in Spanish)
(audience applauds)

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