I never understood salsa music until I saw Panimanian legend Ruben Blades at the 9:30 Club. On a Tuesday night, the club was packed past capacity to see Blades and his 15-odd member band, which included at least three separate drum sets and four keyboards. I was glad that I wasn’t responsible for setting up and doing sound checks.
Before hearing Blades, I thought all salsa music was fairly similar. Blades’ band played with such intensity, depth, and complexity that I realized I hadn’t really heard salsa before. He incorporated African and American Jazz rhythmic and melodic structures without losing his grounding in Latin music or falling into a generic “world beat” fusion sound.
Throughout the concert, Blades signed whatever objects were passed him from the front of the crowd, kissed audience members, accepted personal notes to be read later, all the while coordinating extraordinarily tight and complex arrangements and maintaining a formidable yet modest stage presence. When members of the ensemble took solos, he stepped back behind the percussion so as not to steal the show.
Between songs, he imparted wisdom, 80% Spanish 20% English (most of the audience were hispanophone anyway). He mentioned several movies he was in last year and this year, and said that far more important to him were the two law degrees he was about to receive. The most important thing for us to do, he said, was to educate ourselves as much as possible. It’s easy to see why he won 20% of the vote when he ran for President of Panama; the world would be a better place if he had won.
El Padre Antonio was one of many memorable songs; with almost no Spanish knowledge, I’ve attempted a translation below (ongoing at this point).
El Padre Antonio Xejeira vino de España, buscando nuevas promesas en esta tierra. Llegó a la selva sin la esperanza de ser obispo., y entre el calor en entre los mosquitos habló de Cristo. El padre no funcionaba en el Vaticano, entre papeles y sueños de aire acondicionado; y fue a un pueblito en medio de la nada a dar su sermón, cada semana pa' los que busquen la salvación. El niño Andrés Eloy Pérez tiene diez años. Estudi an la elementaria "Simón Bolivar". Todavia no sabe decir el Credo correctamente; le gusta el río, jugar al fútbol y estar ausente. Le han dado el puesto en la iglesia de monaguillo a ver si la conexión compone al chiquillo; y su familia está muy orgullosa, porque a su vez piensa que con Dios conectando a uno, conecta a diez. Suena la campana: un, dos, tres, del Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andrés. El padre condena la violencia. Sabe por experiencia que no es la solución. Les habla de amor y de justicia, de Dios va la noticia vibrando en su sermón: Pero suenan las campanas: un, dos, tres del Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andrés. Al padre lo halló la guerra un domingo de misa, dando la comunión en mangas de camisa. En medio de un padre nuestro estró el matador y sin confesar su culpa le disparó. Antonio cayo, ostia en mano y sin saber por qué Andrés se murió a su lado sin conocer a Pelé; y entre el grito y la sorpresa, agonizando otra vez estaba el Cristo de palo pegado a la pared. Y nunca se supo el criminal quién fue del Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andrés. Dobaln las campanas: un, dos, tres, del Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andrés.
Here is my attempt at translating this song. I don’t really know Spanish, so I would appreciate suggestions:
Father Antonio Xejeira came from Spain, seeking out new promises in this land. He arrived in the forest with no desire to become a bishop, and surrounded by heat and mosquitoes he spoke of Christ. Father did not work in the air conditioned Vatican surrounded by documents, and he went to a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere to give his sermon every week for those searching for salvation. Andrés Eloy Perez is a ten years old boy, he attends "Simón Bolivar" elementary school. Todavia does not know how to say the Lord's prayer properly, he likes the river, playing soccer, and skipping school. They have made him the church choir-boy to see if the kid will connect; and his family is proud, because they think that when God connects with one, He connects with ten. The bell rings: one, two, three, for Father Antonio and his choir-boy Andrés. The Father condemns violence, He knows from experience that is not the solution. He tells them of justice and love, of God, the news resonates in his sermon: But the bells ring: one, two, three, of Father Antonio and his choir-boy Andrés. War came to the Father during Sunday mass, while giving communion in shirt sleeves. in the middle of an "our father" a matador shot him without confessing his sins. Antonio cried, a hole in his hand without knowing for what Andrés died on his side without knowing Pelé; and between the cries and the surprise, in agony again he was the Christ on the Cross. And the criminal himself never knew who was Antonio Father and his choir-boy Andrés. Ring the bells: one, two, three, for Father Antonio and his choir-boy Andrés.