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The Panama Beat

Panama Bus

Central America, a narrow, mountainous, and largely impoverished stretch of land spanning seven countries, is a surprising and under-exposed 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 presence of large indigenous enclaves, Anglo-Caribbean migrants, the Afro-Arawak Garifuna and Mosquito 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 ithmus, music from around the Americas mixed together in a unique stew: American, Cuban, Colombian,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.



A Trip To Panama: Field Notes!


Featured Artists

Los Mozambiques

Rubén Blades

Ruben Blades

The Panamanian singer came to international fame by working in the mailroom at the NYC salsa powerhouse Fania Records. Working with the 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.

Osvaldo Ayala

One of Panama’s greatest accordion players- he is a legend of the countries music scene. After working with legends like Celia Cruz and Ruben Blades, he was later appointed Minister of Culture.

Los Rakas

Los Rakas


An up and coming rap group from LA, Los Rakas offer a decidedly new spin on their Panamanian roots.

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  • Colombian-49

    Unbelievable music! Latin América has probably the most diverse and awesome music in the entire world. What a great program!