After an absence of five years, during which he was Panama’s Minister of Tourism, salsa star Ruben Blades is returning to the music career that brought him worldwide fame. Yesterday he celebrated his 61st birthday at Harvard University, from which he holds a master’s degree in international law, visiting the growing archive collection chronicling his career. Blades, winner of seven Grammys, “looked through photos, held his old records and chuckled at his change in physical appearance during his first visit to the archive”.
“Look at those sideburns,” Blades said, looking at a photo of a show 30 years ago. The collection is composed of donations from fans and items that the university purchased on eBay, including a vinyl copy of “From Panama to New York” and a poster of Blades promoting childhood literacy. Blades also pledged to contribute personal items and rare recordings—such as a number with Michael Jackson in Spanish. “I’m relieved,” he said, peering up from a box of magazines. “I thought it might end up in a trash can.”
Blades was in Boston with his wife, jazz singer and Broadway star Luba Mason, on the last leg of her tour promoting her new album, Krazy Love. (Blades has been playing in her backup band.) Blades, who stepped down from his position as Panama’s tourism minister on June 30, was scheduled to perform a duet in Portuguese with Mason at her last tour stop last night in Cambridge.
Blades’ trip to Cambridge signals his return to music and the end of his career in government. “It’s a mixture of loss and also a reencounter with your affairs,” he said. “I think of Panama every day. I think of the people I was working with every day. I wonder how things are going.”
But Blades said he was looking forward to getting back to his music. He plans to tour with Seis del Solar, a legendary group of salsa musicians who are his longtime buddies, with scheduled stops in Puerto Rico and Miami later this year. He said reggaeton — music that combines rap and Caribbean rhythms — and new Latino music reflects today’s culture just as his music draws on his generation’s perception of city life. “It’s urban music. It is young people’s approach to their opinions to how they see society today,” he said. “Although we are in different moments in terms of our ages, we are all sharing the same space.”
“It’ll take a while for me to adjust again to my other interests,” he said. “Right now, I need to work and continue my work as a musician, as an artist.”