It’s been 30 years already. Time really does go fast.
My earliest memories of the album was as a youngster living in Puerto Rico around the time of the album’s release. I can still vividly remember playing outside my house with other kids from the neighborhood and hearing older people walking around singing out loud the lyrics to “Plastico” and “Pedro Navaja”, especially the line “la vida te da sorpresas, sorpresas te da la vida, ay dios”
Siembra was, is, and always will be an extraordinary recording. Its reputation well earned over the years due in large part to the brilliant musicianship and songwriting that created the album. But to me its greatest significance and what made it so ground breaking was Rubén Blades achievement in bringing deep social and political commentary into a musical genre not traditionally known for having songs of such a serious nature.
Rubén changed and revolutionized Latin music, with Siembra, breaking many barriers and establishing a new level of artistry. Ruben took the music to a higher level by introducing not only a new approach to songwriting but by also expanding the boundaries in which all other Latin artists could create and achieve.
The subject matter that the songs took on were simply unprecedented to the wide Latin audience of Afro-Cuban music that listened in for the first time and afterwards. The album opener, “Plastico” starts off warning about the hazards and inherent absurdities of materialism and racism, ending with a call for Latino consciousness and Pan-Latin American unity as the way forward.
This was not your parents El Gran Combo or Celia Cruz album.
The centerpiece and most famous song on Siembra is “Pedro Navaja” which tells the tale of a barrio hustler whose lifestyle finally catches up with him one day as he inevitably experiences a very tragic and lonely end. Like Ruben writes in the song, 8 million stories the city of New York has. Many of those just like Pedro Navaja.
In songs like “Maria Lionza” which is set in Venezuela but the expressions of racial unity and the longing for Liberty are meant for all the oppressed masses in Latin America not just in Caracas.
“Ojos” is a song about hope, about the poor, about young people, who despite the hopelessness of their social conditions are still able to rise above it. The words of the songs, once again, speak to all of Latin America.
“Siembra” closes the album out and is an earth shaker of a song. The rhythms so blazing hot that it is impossible to listen to this song sitting down and without boppin’ your head and moving your arms and shoulders all around.
The song goes back to the themes of not surrendering your soul to materialism, Latin American unity, elevating one’s consciousness to make a better world, fighting together against racism, never losing faith and in between all of this there’s even a shout out to Puerto Rican revolutionary Ramón E. Betances.
A truly monster of a song and a perfect ending to a tour de force of an album.
Finally, I would be very remiss to not mention the enormous contributions that Willie Colon made with his fiery trombone playing and the masterful arrangements of all the songs.
Willie and the rest of the musicians push the songs along, making them swing, like crazy.
Siembra would not be what it is without the musical genius of Willie Colon.
30 years later, the music is as alive as ever. And the political context of the songs as relevant as ever just by looking at the political situation across Latin America today.
In my opinion, Siembra is still to this day the greatest artistic achievement ever made in Latin music history.