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Rubén Blades: 1948—: Salsa Singer, Actor, Activist

Recorded Most Successful Salsa Record

Blades met and began collaborating with the Bronx salsa musician Willie Colón in 1976. With Colón as arranger to Blades's songs, they released Willie Colón Presents Rubén Blades in 1977. Their album Siembra was released in 1978 and was considered the most popular salsa album in history, having sold over three million copies. The album also produced a hit single, "Pedro Navaja," that "defied radio formats and yet has become the biggest-selling single in salsa history," according to Billboard. "The album became a hit," Blades recalled in a 2002 interview with the Wall Street Journal, "because the people who bought it weren't just the dancers. They identified with the stories as much as the rhythm." Blades forged a new brand of salsa known as "salsa conciente," or salsa with a socially conscious message. Blades was chosen to tour with salsa greats Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, and Tito Puente as part of the Fania All-Stars group. A long-time fan of the silver screen, Blades got a chance to try acting in 1981 in The Last Fight. The film was a commercial failure, but the experience opened doors for Blades, and was a nice source of income.

After five years and four gold records, Blades ceased collaborating with Colón in 1982 to focus on his own work, launching his solo group, Seis del Solar, or "Six from the 'Hood." The group was an unusual blend of traditional salsa and jazz, rock, doo-wop, and various Latin beats. Seis del Solar became very popular in Latin communities, but crossed over the mainstream with Buscando América, the first salsa record released on a major record label, Elektra/Asylum. While most popular salsa albums are driven by dance and party tunes, Buscando América contained songs that were serious and often political. On the album, Blades sings about slain human-rights advocate Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and the rampant kidnappings in South America, and criticizes the Panamanian dictatorship of General Manuel Antonio Noriega. The song "El Tiburón" criticizes the United States's actions in Central America, and caused an uproar in Miami's Little Havana community. The song was banned from radio stations—Blades wore a bulletproof jacket while performing it in Miami. Regardless, the album sold 300,000 copies in its first five months, earned a Grammy Award nomination, and was listed on Time magazine's list of the year's top-ten rock albums. After the album, Blades announced he was taking a year off to complete his master's degree in international law at Harvard University, which he did in 1985. He also co-wrote, acted, and sang in the independent film Crossover Dreams as a small-time salsa singer who wants to cross over into the mainstream.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Shennen Bersani (1961-) Biography - Personal to Mark Burgess Biography - PersonalRubén Blades: 1948—: Salsa Singer, Actor, Activist Biography - Political Unrest Sobered Dreams Of Music, Recorded Most Successful Salsa Record, Created Socially Conscious, Yet Danceable Music