I used to be friends with this super hot Panamanian girl. Man, was she hot! Pretty face, blue eyes, full lips, perfect Brazilian butt, huge natural boobs, you get the idea, the whole package. Plus, she was a freak, but that's another story. The thing is I used to joke around with her and tell her she was the hottest Panamanian woman I've ever met and in response she would ask me "Really? Have you met any other Panamanian women?" to what my only possible answer was "Not really".
And it wasn't just me. This happened to her with every other guy who tried to hit on her; after noticing her exotic looks they'd all ask "So, where are you from?" and after she'd answer, their comeback usually was "Really? You don't look Panamanian!" which would take us back to the "And how many other Panamanian women have you met?" and they would suddenly realize that they didn't know any.
You see, pretty much the same thing happens with Panamanian music. Nobody outside of Panama knows shit about it. I mean, everybody knows that the origins of reggaetón have to be traced back to Panama, but even that is something that most people realized way too late in 2004, after reggaetón crossed over from Puerto Rico to the States and they recognized the familiarity of the beat like "hey, that sounds like that other stuff El General was doing back in the early nineties, doesn't it?".
So if you, like me, are totally clueless about Panamanian women, I mean music, I strongly suggest you pick up this collection of comps released by the fine UK label Sound Way. The most recent one is volume 3 and it has 22 track with plenty of never-before-released-abroad old Panamanian music including some salsa, calypso, and yes cumbia! Because cumbia's origins are as northern Colombian as they are Panamanian.
The second volume of this collection had a lot more cumbia though, but this one is still very interesting. It includes a couple of extremely familiar tunes sung by extremely unfamiliar names. Like the classic salsa "Llorarás" made popular by Oscar D'Leon, here in a much older version by Beby Castor con Los Juveniles, and also an early version of "La Negra Tomasa" with the weird title of "Bilongo" interpreted here by Papi Brandao y Sus Ejecutivos ("La Negra Tomasa" is the same cumbia that crossed over to the Latin American rock audience thanks to Los Caifanes and crossed over again to the neo-cumbia audience with the spectacular remix "La Mara Tomasa" by El Hijo De La Cumbia, among many other versions). I don't know if these are covers of even older songs (I thought the original "La Negra Tomasa" was Cuban) or are in fact the original versions, because unfortunately I don't have the physical record, hence, no liner notes.
However, the most interesting thing, for me at least, in this compilation were the bilingual calypso tracks where you can find the obvious Jamaican influences in the proto-reggae-toasting vocals (keep in mind this music is from 1960 to 1975) which have to be the direct ancestors of what later developed into Spanish raggamuffin and eventually reggaetón.
So, thank you Sound Way for putting together these amazing records. Now I can totally pretend to be an expert in Panamanian music and that might become handy if I ever meet another hot Panamanian woman.
Available in vinyl LP as an import (there's also a 7'' with bonus tracks!) and all the regular digital download websites.