Two years ago -in 2013- at the great salsa festival “Salsa al Parque” in the city of Bogotá, I had the privilege of listening to one of the most emblematic salsa legends of all times, Rubén Blades. He is synonymous with passion, feeling, catchy sound, smart lyrics and commitment to the musical community and society. After the break-up of Blades and Seis del Solar, thousands of fans wondered when and how Rubén would make a comeback to the stage with other musical bands. Seis del Solar has been considered a gem in the industry for its contribution to the evolution not only of salsa but also to Latin jazz. This group was part of the particular and unique sound Blades created, a stamp that distinguished them among dozens of musical projects around the world. But life continues, the magical world of music continues too so a genius like Rubén continues contributing his talent to the world scene. The first thought that came to my mind that day as I watched Rubén Blades was “What an orchestra Blades has!”, answering any of the doubts that many of us had for years when Ruben stopped his career to work as Minister of Tourism in his beloved Panama.
Followers were not disappointed by the Panamanian singer-songwriter because his comeback was warranted in terms of music. Mr. Blades entrusted his arrangements and instrumental accompaniment to one of his compatriots, Roberto Delgado, a talented bass player, singer and composer who studied at Conservatorio de Musica de Bellas Artes in Mexico and the Golden West College of Huntington Beach, California. From the time he was a young musician, Mr. Delgado has created several musical projects including Grupo Alma Joven (1973), Orquesta Fantasia (1978), Grupo Experimental de Latin Jazz (1985), Orquesta de Pedro Azael (1986), Grupo Kristal (1988), Grupo Fiebre (1989), Cutito Larrinaga (1991), and Orquesta Cimarrón (1993) among others. He has also worked with great figures in the world of Latin music like Cheo Feliciano, Luis Perico Ortiz, Ismael Miranda, Tito Nieves, Yolanda Rivera, Angel Canales, José Alberto el Canario just to mention a few.
Son de Panamá is the new work of Rubén Blades, as usual, this album is full of profound lyrics where the listener can appreciate poetry and commitment as Blades has shown during his career as a composer and singer. In this project some themes from previous albums have been included like “Las calles” (The Streets), “Ojos de perro azul” (Blue Dog´s Eyes), “Vino añejo” (Matured Wine), and “La Caina”. Great songs that Blades and Delgado´s orchestra bring again with great energy and pure mastery in musical interpretation. The perfect example is the mythical “Ojos the perro azul”, a piece recorded in the album Agua de Luna (Moon Water) with the band Seis del Solar: in this song, the basic arrangement of Oscar Hernández is kept but Mr. Delgado proposes a version where the brass takes a leading role enhancing the sound of this unforgettable theme. Another song to mention is the beautiful interpretation of the “Vino añejo”, a melody included in La rosa de los vientos and composed by the Panamanian Roberto Cedeño. Delgado and his orchestra reinvigorate this classic with catchy vibraphone lines, powerful brass sessions and an unparalleled team of singers that enhances the entire piece, giving the listener a new and renovated sound that goes perfectly with the tremendous feeling that Rubén Blades put into it.
From other composers, Blades recorded some themes for the first time including the bolero “Me recordarás” composed by the Cuban Frank Domínguez, and three songs written by Panamanian composers; “Otra canción de amor” (Rómulo Castro), “Teresa Batista” (José Calderón), and “Perdón” (Omar Alfano). To match the title of this work, several songs on this new album, created by Panamanians, were included as a way to pay tribute to the music of Blades´ land.
Creativity is part of Mr. Blades´ life. This album could not be recorded without some original compositions by this legend. “Caín”, “Parrhesia”, “Olaya”, and “En esa casa” (In that house) are the new songs on Son de Panamá. Of these four new pieces, three of them are about the typical and profound ideas about life and society that Rubén discusses in their interpretations: “Caín” talks about how to make amends after doing bad things to others based on the biblical story of Caín and Abel. “Vive el arrepentimiento” (feel regret) is a moving phrase that has the ability to evoke tears and reflection, this phrase makes the listener vitally move while they cry the reflection. “Parrhesia” could be identified as the masterpiece of this album, a sincere composition where Mr. Blades reflects on the contradictions of human beings with respect to the political decisions made by the “richest” and most “powerful” countries over other nations. Fascinating and smart lyrics are the poetic framework of Son de Panamá, an exquisite musical project which has the stamp of the committed, brave and brilliant Ruben Blades.
Track List: Las calles; Caín; Ojos de perro azul; Vino añejo; Parrhesia; Me recordarás; Olaya; La Caína; Otra canción de amor; En esa casa; Teresa Batista; El perdón; La caína.
Personnel: Roberto Delgado: bass and voice; Luis Enrique Becerra: keyboards; Juan Carlos “Wichy” López: trumpet; Francisco Delvecchio: trombons; Carlos Pérez Bidó: timbales; Juan Berna: piano; Marcos Barraza: congas; Raúl “Toto” Rivera: bongó, campana, güiro and maracas; Ademir Berrocal: drums; Carlos Ubarte: sax baritone.
Guests: Eduardo Pineda: piano; José Ramón Guerra: congas; Mayito Travieso: tres; Medoro Madera: voice.