The Cuban Blood of Rubén Blades / Iván García

“Buddy, is it true that the mother of Ruben Blades was Cuban?”, Arian, a 16-year-old student asks me, incredulous. “Cuban and from Havana”, I reply.

On the island, young people know who Rubén Blades is, know his songs and dance to his music. But many are unaware that his mother, Anoland Bellido de Luna-Caramés y Perez, was born in 1927 in Regla, a town just across the bay from Havana.

Since her name was so long, she took the stage name of Anoland Díaz. in addition to being a singer and pianist, she also worked on radio dramas. Myriam Acevedo, now a leading actress in Cuba, knew Anoland as a young child.

“Anoland was also an exceptional child. From childhood she could play the piano like a true professional. She sang soprano and as a child I sang as a young contralto. The owner of the CMQ (the main radio station in the country) had the idea that our two voices could do a duet, and so it was. They called us Myriam and Anoland, the perfect duo” remembers Myriam, who has lived in Italy since 1968.

Anoland was very young in the 40’s when she went to Panama. One night, while performing at a night club, the Cuban woman noticed the man playing the bongo drums in the orchestra that accompanied her. It was Rubén Darío Blades Bósquez, a Panamanian of Colombian and English descent. His work as a police detective did not prevent him from sharing his passion for music and percussion. The couple had five children, and the second was Rubén Blades Bellido de Luna, who came into the world on July 16, 1948 in the San Felipe neighborhood of Panama City.

His paternal grandfather, a native of the island of St. Lucia had gone to work on the Panama Canal, and his maternal grandfather, Joseph Louis Reinee Bellido de Luna, from New Orleans, went to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-Cuban-American War. He liked the country and decided to stay, marrying his third wife, Carmen Caramés, a native of Galicia, with whom he had 22 children, including Anoland, who died in 1991.

The Cuban writer Leonardo Padura swears that Rubén Blades came to music through Benny Moré, one of the greatest musicians that Cuba has given the world. Blades himself confirms it:

“I was 10 when my father took me to see Benny Moré, on tour in Panama. He did that like someone going to see the tallest building in the world, because Benny was unsurpassable. After the blockade (by the United States against Cuba), I found more revolutionary offerings like Juan Formell and Los Van Van, Adalberto y su Son, Gonzalito Rubalcaba in the line of Afro-Cuban jazz (latin jazz). I realize now that Cuba was developing a new and tremendous music. And then it produces a reunion with the contemporary Cuban music, especially starting when Juan Formell and Los Van Van recorded the song, Muévete.”

In the Blades home they also listened to Perez Prado and the Orquesta Casino de la Playa, founded in 1937 and considered to be the first big band in Cuba.

In 1990, to celebrate the 45th anniversary of its founding, the group Clave y Guaguanco, which together with the Muñequitos de Matanzas and Yoruba Andabo played a more authentic rumba, dedicated to Rubén Blades the record Dime si te gustó, which includes three songs of Panama: Para ser rumbero, Tiburon, and Te estan buscando.

When Rubén Blades sang in Havana with the Fania All-Stars, in March of 1979, he was in Regla, his mother’s homeland. The story is in this video.

His mother’s family injected the best Cuban music into his veins, and from his father’s side he received life lessons, especially from his grandmother, the Panamanian Emma Bósquez of Laurenza. “My grandmother Emma was the best. I always said that the worst poverty was spiritual. She was a teacher and writer who painted, and defended the rights of women, a Rosicrucian, spiritualist and vegetarian in the 30’s. It was she who taught me to read and write, when I was 4”, he says.

A lawyer by profession, the career of Ruben Blades has been linked to both music and politics.

In 1993, in an open letter to Fidel Castro, he protested the arrest of the Cuban poet Maria Elena Cruz Varela and criticized Castro’s long tenure in power. More recently, in April of 2010 he said that Cuba’s government “continues to exhibit a level of intolerance, intransigence and fear that is contradictory to its thousand-times expressed conviction that the overwhelming majority of the country supports Marxism-Leninism.”

Translated by ricote

September 13, 2010