Arts, Culture & Media

Why musician Rubén Blades made the switch from salsa to tango

Panamanian musician Rubén Blades is best known for his salsa compositions, but all along, it seems, he was fantasizing about something else.

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"I've always wondered how the songs I wrote, that were recorded in salsa, how would they turn out if I recorded them as tangos," Blades says.

These aren't exactly the closest of genres — salsa and tango. I mean, where do you even start? 

Panamanian musician Ruben Blades gestures as he performs during the closure of Panama Jazz Festival in Panama City January 19, 2013.

Panamanian musician Ruben Blades gestures as he performs during the closure of Panama Jazz Festival in Panama City January 19, 2013.

Credit:

Carlos Jasso/Reuters

In fact, Rubén Blades has a new album out where he gives the tango treatment to 10 of his classic songs. He says it's not just the timing that's different, but the phrasing and even his emotion, too.

"It was very difficult actually to sing the songs. I had to be very careful not to allow my emotions to take over and then turn the song into something too dramatic or even false," he explains.

He also had to watch out for the critics. Blades says a lot of people were skeptical about his tango project. But he persevered.

And before even entering the recording studio, he tested his re-worked songs in front of the toughest tango audience in the world.

"We performed the songs for the first time live in Buenos Aires during the World Tango Music Exhibition. We played it at the Luna Park. Full audience, over 11,000 people and it was televised throughout the whole country. So the fact that we were allowed to leave the country alive made me feel somewhat optimistic," he says.

After the success of that show, Blades knew he had to lay down the tracks. And he did.