Poeta del Pueblo

Rubén Blades

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Poeta del Pueblo Review

by Thom Jurek

Poeta del Pueblo is Ruben Blades’ volume in Fania’s massive retrospective program. This title contains 27 tracks totaling over two-and-a-half hours, the vast majority recorded before the release of 1984’s Buscando América for Elektra. Blades is best-known as the poet of modern salsa; his profile ascended in its maturity during the '70s and '80s. However, his first recordings were with the Pete Rodriguez Orchestra in 1969, as evidenced by “Descarga Caliente,” included here: it's a self-penned, late-era boogaloo with Afro-Cuban polyrhythms popping over the top. His brief period with Ray Barretto is also represented with the inclusion of the post-bop-inflected salsa “Canto Abacuá.” Of course, this set contains his best-known collaborations with Willie Colón: “Pablo Pueblo,” “Tiburon,” and the anthem “Pedro Navaja,” but it goes deeper into his solo material and socially conscious songwriting, too. Tracks such as “Juan Pachanga,” recorded with the Fania All-Stars in 1977, were met, initially, with great resistance from the label’s executive team for being too serious -- depressing even! Moreover, this compilation reveals how much more there was to Blades than his lyrics. His compositional ability enables him to meld Brazilian samba rhythms and melodies seamlessly into salsa in tracks like “El Cazangero,” from Colón’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly , and “Paula C,” from Blades' Bohemia y Poeto. Some excellent tunes are culled from failed experiments as well, such as “Manuela,” off the ambitious double-length samba musical Maestra Vida. The final three tracks were recorded with a jazz sextet to fulfill his contract with Fania and released as Doble Filo. The label released them without consent after completely remixing them -- badly. They include his own rarely heard version of “El Cantate,” written for Hector Lavoe that became his theme song. For Blades fans who only know his later material, this is an ear-opening experience. Despite some of the flawed material here, Poeta del Pueblo underscores his reputation as salsa’s great poet and reveals him to be a fine sonero as well.

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