July 04, 1988 12:00 PM

PBS (Sat., July 2, 9 p.m. ET)


It displays a talent in reverse to take sizzling salsa and make it seem dull. But this film—the first in a summer series of documentaries about music—does just that. The show lets a musician talk more than sing, and that is usually a mistake. Rubén Blades, a Panamanian lawyer who came to America to become a socially conscious salsa star, gabs, gabs and gabs. “I mean, I’m doing like an urban chronicle,” he says. “It’s like musical journalism.” He speculates that someday he may return to Panama and become “a candidate for highest office…that is not such a farfetched idea.” Considering the state of Panamanian politics today, that may be true. When Blades is not saying such self-important things in an interview, he is onstage shouting bumper stickers into the microphone: “End racism!” Then, finally, he sings. I always liked Blades’s music, but because he sings in Spanish and I listen in English, I never understood his lyrics. Here, when he translates them, I cringe, fearing I’ll hear more gab. But no, what I hear is well-spoken sentiment, especially in a song about a couple breaking up that Blades records with Linda Ronstadt and in a salsification of Mack the Knife called Pedro Navaja (Pedro the Razor). Nice. To quote an FM radio slogan: What this show needs is less talk, more music.

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