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Go Behind the Scenes

Artists: Rubén Blades

Essay | Video Transcript

Ruben Blades in New York City
by Producer Pamela A. Aguilar

Along with other global dignitaries, Panama's Minister of Tourism was in New York, on official business at the United Nations, when he agreed to be interviewed for Latin Music USA. However, Ruben Blades isn't just a government official, and we weren't discussing UN policies. Instead, our interview focused on another topic of global importance, one that was born in the streets of New York City: Salsa!

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, Ruben's hit song, Pedro Navaja, was a favorite at family parties. The captivating rhythms, horns and lyrics drove everyone - tias, tios, and primos - to the dance floor. Ok, the middle of my Tio William's living room, with couches and chairs pushed to the side.

Little did I know years later, I'd have an opportunity to chat with this Fania All Star -- whom all my aunts swooned over -- to discuss his early musical career and his passion for writing lyrics that gave voice to a people across the Americas.

Being from Panama, a gateway country shaped by ongoing cultural fusions, Pan-American and beyond, Ruben was no foreigner to varied worldviews. Yet for him New York City is like no other place. He spoke of the unique energy and diversity of the city, how this shaped his music, what it was like when he first came to New York, and what it means to him today. I hung on every word, as what he described resonated with me, and my personal experience.

"This place is like everybody's place," he said, "and it is like everybody's dreams are here... Everybody comes with a dream and puts it in a pot...and ... that's your ticket...I really love this city, New York."

There is an inherent vitality here that draws people like a magnet. And while I cherish my California memories, in New York, I am home.

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