Central America, a narrow, mountainous, and largely impoverished stretch of land spanning seven countries, is a surprising and underexposed Latin American musical hot zone. The region’s bizarre and tumultuous history has led to a fascinating mix of cultural influences – Spanish conquistadors, British pirates, and American banana companies have at one time or another vied for power. Add to this mix the presence of large indigenous enclaves, Anglo-Caribbean migrants, the Afro-Arawak Garifuna and Miskito peoples, and the many musical influences of the Caribbean, and you have the makings of a very interesting musical tapestry. Salsa and merengue, soca and calypso, reggae and reggaeton—it all comes together in Central America. In our program, we visit Panama, a little-known musical treasure trove. Here on the isthmus, music from around the Americas mixed together in a unique stew: American, Cuban, Colombian and Jamaican influences combine to form a highly complex and unique musical culture. We’ll hear interviews from Spanish reggae star Kafu Banton, Afro-Spanish linguist John Lipski, traditional Afro-Latino princess Marcia Rodriguez, dancehall youngbloods Los Rakas, and many more.
The Panamanian singer came to international fame via a gig in the mailroom at the NYC salsa powerhouse Fania Records. Working with trombonist/composer Willie Colón, he replaced the departed Héctor Lavoe as his primary singer, cutting many of the finest salsa records ever made. After leaving Fania, he became increasingly involved in Panamanian politics, running for president and eventually serving as the nation’s Minister of Tourism.
One of Panama’s greatest accordion players–he is a legend of the country’s music scene. After working with legends like Celia Cruz and Ruben Blades, he was later appointed Minister of Culture.
An up-and-coming rap group from L.A., Los Rakas offer a decidedly new spin on their Panamanian roots.