Friday, August 9, 2013

Rubén Blades at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Rubén Blades
(photos above and below by Darial Sneed)

After four decades in music, just how big a superstar is Panama-born salsero (and actor, activist, lawyer, politician) Rubén Blades? Well, if you already know his work, you know the answer. But, if you don't, check out this note I received from the Lincoln Center press office the day following Blades' Wednesday night appearance at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park Bandshell:
By the way, we just got the official head count from LC Security and it's 10,000+ -- -- that includes people in the official seating area, plus crowds in the back section of the park going all the way to the Koch Theater and spilling over a bit on to Josie Robertson Plaza.  There were also folks standing and listening from the sidewalk of West 62nd street, but these were not included in the count. 
Yes. Sure enough, despite threat of rain--a threat never made good on--there were people stretched back from the park's entrance barriers as far as my eyes could see. Many had been waiting there for hours. They were let in, a handful at a time, and then the trickle stopped--no more admitted. I had never seen anything like that at a Lincoln Center Out of Doors show.

Similarly, the line for the women's restroom was ridiculous, made bearable only by the way a spirit of solidarity and wicked humor tends to break out in these situations. After my more than half-hour wait, I just barely made it back to my seat to hear Blades well into his first number, "Plástico," with Roberto Delgado Orchestra, Panamanian musicians making their US debut.

Blades with Panama's Roberto Delgado Orchestra
(photo by Darial Sneed)
Getting their shots
(c)2013, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Dancing had already broken out in the aisles with salsa dancers of different ethnicities exchanging partners and displaying intricacies of personal style--a delightful visual accompaniment to the stage show. With few moments of lilting effervescence, Blades' set hewed to a sober, steady roll--his vocals sliding over the disciplined brass, percussion and keyboards of the orchestra. No eye-candy or sonic flash whatsoever, just a baseline for a reliable Everyman storyteller and his tales of social and political realities--in songs like "Decisiones," "Caína," and "Amor," the last, written as his mother was succumbing to cancer--and his sharing of comfort and wisdom.

I want to share with you one of my earlier and most fervent Rubén Blades obsessions--"Cuentas del Alma," a Latin jazz piece from Escenas (1985). So much do I love this song--a curiously soaring reflection on abandonment and bitter loneliness--that I'm going to share two versions of Blades singing it with different bands. Here's the first.

For the second, you'll have to go here.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues through this Sunday, August 11. Click here to enjoy more wonderful--and free-shows.

Lincoln Center Plaza fountain
(c)2013, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

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