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Episode 23


This months episode focuses on Panama, a country diverse in rich wildlife, biodiversity and mixed culture.

I became fascinated with the somewhat electric energy of its musical traditions, ranging from salsa to reggae, jazz, cambia, pastille and tamborito.


A country first influenced by the indigenous populations of Kunas, Teribes, Ngobe Bugle and others, then by the black population who were brought over, first as slaves from Africa, between the 16th century and the 19th century, and then voluntarily (especially from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Saint Lucia) to work on the Panamanian Railroad and Canal projects between the 1840s and 1914.


This lead to a diverse culture and sound.

Here is my take on what I found when digging through the musical history of Panama.


Bush y Sus Magnificos - La Humanidad (1972)

Lord Cobra - Cristy (1979)

Los Invasores - El Raton (1973)

Los Silvertones - Carmen (1976)

Combo Preludio - Mi triste historia (1977)

Chilo Pitty - Piculina 

Love Letters

The Beachers - Gallimore´s Feeling (1968)

Los Silvertones - Tamborito Swing  (1969)

Camilo Azuquita - Borombon 

Papa Brandao Y Su Conjunto Aires Tablenos - La Murga De Panama 

Bush Y Sus Magníficos - El Tirano  (1972)

Roberto y su Zafra con Beny Romero - De Beny a Beny (1977)

Lord Cobra - Colon Colon 

The Exciters - The Bag (James Brown)

Los Silvertones - Oh gee

Organo Melodico de Juan Torres (Et maitenant Meditación)

Danilo Perez - Body And Soul (1993)

Musical history and styles

Saloma and mejorana

The saloma and mejorana feature a distinctive vocal style said to derive from Sevillians. The most important native instruments used to play these musics are the mejoranera, a five-stringed guitar accompanying songs called mejoranas as well as torrentes, and the rabel, a violin with three strings used to play cumbias, puntos and pasillos in the central provinces of CocléHerreraLos Santos and Veraguas.


Closely related to its more well-known Colombian cousin, Panamanian cumbia, especially amanojá and atravesao styles, are domestically popular. Another important music is punto and the salon dances like pasillodanza and contradanza. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Pasillo music was very popular.


A folk dance, called tamborito is very popular. Danced by men and women in costumes, the tamborito is led by a cantalante, a female lead singer, who is backed by a clapping chorus (the "estribillo") that sings four-line stanzas of copla (a lyrical form related to Spanish poetry) as well as three drums.


A somewhat similar genre called congo is popular among the black communities of the northern coast in Costa Arriba, which includes Portobelo, a province of Colón.


Contemporary popular Panama folkloric music is generally called música típico[1][2] , or pindín, which since the 1940s has included instruments such as the guiro, conga and especially the accordion, among others. Some famous Panamanian artists in this genre are Aceves Nunez, Teresín Jaén, Ulpiano Vergara, Lucho De Sedas y Juan De Sedas, Dorindo Cárdenas, Victorio Vergara Batista, Roberto "Papi" Brandao, Nenito Vargas, Yin Carrizo, Abdiel Núñez, Manuel de Jesús Abrego, and Samy y Sandra Sandoval, just to name a few.


Panama's leading salsa musician, Ruben Blades, has achieved international stardom, after collaborating with other local musicians like Rómulo Castro and Tuira. Other world-famous musicians from Panama included Luis Russell, who played with Louie Armstrong in the 1920s, Mauricio Smith, a noted saxophone and flute player who played with Chubby Checker, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Machito and Mongo Santamaría, among others. Victor "Vitin" Paz, a pillar of the Latin jazz trumpet, was a cornerstone of the Fania All Stars for many years. *Gaitanes, La KShamba, Roberto Delgado and many others.


Meanwhile, Panama has a long history in jazz, beginning with Luis Russell, pianist, composer and director, who travel to New Orleans in 1919 and made important contributions. By the 1940s the port city of Colón boasted at least ten local jazz orchestras. Legends of Jazz in Panama included pianist and composer Victor Boa, bassist Clarence Martin, singer Barbara Wilson and French horn player John "Rubberlegs" McKindo. This jazz legacy was recently reinvigorated when the US-based Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez organized the first jazz Festival in January 2004.


Panama also boasts a vibrant history of calypso and mento music sung by nationally well-known musicians such as Lord Panama, Lord Delicious, Two-Gun Smokey, Lady Trixie, Lord Kon-Tiki, Lord Kitti, and Lord Cobra and the Pana-Afro sounds.

Modern times

By the 1960s, local doo-wop groups were evolving into what became known as the Combos Nacionales, five to ten musician groups using electric instruments and incorporating the diverse sounds of jazzcalypsosalsamerengue, doo wop, soul and funk. Famous Combos Nacionales included The Silvertones, The Exciters, The Fabulous Festivals, The Beachers, The Soul Fantastics, Los Mozambiques, The Goombays, Los Juveniles, Roberto y su Zafra and Bush y sus Magnificos. By 1970, the dynamic Combos Nacionales sound dominated Panamanian popular music, only winding down toward the late 1970s.

Reggae en Español originated in Panama, known as Spanish reggae is very popular among youth, and spawned the Spanish language dancehall also known as reggae en español (Spanish dancehall) style known as the predecessor to reggaeton, which originated with such artists as El GeneralNando BoomRenato, Mr. RicoAldo RanksKafu BantonJam & Suppose, Danger Man and Chicho Man, before becoming popular in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and eventually amongst youth in the United States. As of 2006, Panama has become a major source and contributor to reggaeton and, especially as Reggaeton from Panama is on the rise and continues to dominate charts in the United States and abroad.

For more information on the musical culture of Panama go to:

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