Ruben Blades is a chameleon. I still remember the lyrics to “Pedro Navaja,” a song about a neighborhood crook that he wrote and recorded in the late 70’s. It was one of those tracks that my parents would play when the adults got together to drink aguardiente and dance salsa in our living room.
The chorus spoke about life’s unexpected twists and turns: “La vida te da sorpresas/ Sorpresas te da la vida, ay Dios!” And no one knows that better than the 60-year-old Panamanian singer himself, who has outlived many of his Fania cohorts and continues to reinvent himself.
In the music industry, he’s collaborated with everyone from Willie Colon to Sting. For films, he’s been a composer, screenwriter and actor. In politics, he ran for president of Panama in 1994 (he came in third) and is currently the country’s minister of tourism. Oh, and did I mention that he has a master’s degree in international law from Harvard?
These days, Blades can add the title of “rapper” to his resume. He raps for the first time in Calle 13’s “La Perla” single from the album Los de Atrás Vienen Conmigo. And guess what? He’s not bad at all—surprise, surprise!
You can catch Blades on tour this summer. In the meantime, watch him in the behind the scenes filming of the video for “La Perla”: