A MAN, A PLAN, PANAMA


Los Exagerados: Panama Esta Bueno Y…Ma
Los Fabulosos Festivals: El Mensaje
Both from Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75 (Soundway, 2006)

This is going to sound odd coming from someone who put out a compilation but I usually don’t like comps because I don’t like knowing what I don’t have. Yeah, record avarice is an ugly beast and I’m no less susceptible to it than the next vinyl dork. (Despite what people seem to think, I don’t actually own every album and 45 ever made).

That said, there are “hard to find” records and then there are near-impossible records and when people comp the latter, I’m actually quite appreciative because it brings into the light great recordings that would have otherwise flown under the radar because they’re so obscure. This is precisely why I was very happy to see this compilation of Panamanian soul/Latin come out: most of these recordings are songs that I, barring a trip to Panama, would never, ever have heard/found on my own. For that reason, I’m glad that someone went through the trouble to make these available to a larger public (myself included within that) and share some great sounds with a fascinating back story.

What makes Panama special in terms of its musical history has much also to do with its economic and political history. The building of the Panama Canal not only brought in a mix of laborers from throughout South and Central American, the Caribbean and elsewhere, but just geographically, Panama is a nexus point between multiple musical cultures. Panama! reflects that vibrant set of styles with a 15 song collection of everything from frenetic descargas, to Calypso soul, to funky jazz, etc.

The two picks above don’t do justice to that diversity but they’re still, you know, great songs regardless. I wanted to make sure the Latin sabor of the comp got some shine so I went with the Los Exagerados’ catchy descarga “Panama Esta Bueno Y…Ma.” Not only is this a great example of this popular Latin dance rhythm but you gotta dig the name: “it’s good in Panama…and then some.” I tend to be more of a boogaloo kind of guy but its songs like this that make me appreciate how kick ass a good descarga can be.

As for the Los Fabulosos Festivals…if you know anything about me, there’s no way I could pass up a Panamanian soul cover of “The Message” by Cymande. I have a Spanish language version of this song from a Mexican group but I have to say – this is killer too despite its lo-fi sound. I like how they switch up the lyrics especially – nice way for them to put their own stamp on this. If someone’s got a copy of this 45 for sale or trade, holla!

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