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V/A - Panama! 2: Latin Sounds, Cumbia Tropical & Calypso Funk on the Isthmus 1967-77

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Artist: V/A

Album: Panama! 2: Latin Sounds, Cumbia Tropical & Calypso Funk on the Isthmus 1967-77

Label: Soundway

Review date: Aug. 14, 2009

Panama may be situated at the far end of Central America, but history points its cultural gaze to diverse distant points on the globe. Once a province of Colombia, there’s plenty of South American DNA in Panamanian music’s genetic code. But successive waves of migration, coming and going, and maritime trade have linked the country with the Caribbean and New York City. Add to that the universal friction between country and city, and you have the makings for one complex and fiery stew.

Panama! 2’s subtitle promises “Latin Sounds, Cumbia Tropical, and Calypso Funk on the Isthmus 1967-77.” The order of styles is telling; the northern rhythms that gave the first volume a crossover kick in the pants aren’t as evident this time out. For every nod to Bill Withers or Curtis Mayfield, there are several other tunes that look east to Puerto Rico, Cuba or even Jamaica, and still more that look to Colombia. The incomparably named Sir Jablonsky intones “Juck Juck Pt. 1” in a calypso style against a backdrop of choppy reggae guitar and bright, blaring brass. Singer Camilo Azuquita, whose “Borombon” brings a strut that could put a less limber dancer in the hospital, not only looked to what was happening in Puerto Rico, he moved there a few years after making the record.

Lately Panama’s jazz musicians, led by Danilo Perez, have gotten their due abroad; you can hear their forbears here, blowing virile saxophone solos over a rolling cumbia groove on Los Silvertones’ “Tamborito Swing.” But even tougher are the squeezebox players, loud enough to fry the mike on Chilo Pitty’s “Piculina” and energized enough to gallop ahead of the massed percussion on Omelia Cortez’s “Si La Vez.” But other Panamanians never moved any farther than from small interior towns to one of the big cities on either end of the canal; they liked to hear the sounds of where they came from when they got off work. Alfredo y Su Salsa Montañera’s handclaps, guitar and accordion sound barely removed from a small town square full of dancers swirling with as little inhibition as the combo’s feverish singers.

Soundway has a reputation to uphold when it comes to annotation, and Panama! 2 doesn’t disappoint. The accompanying 24-page booklet takes a crate-digger’s angle, its images of album sleeves and 45 labels resonating with Roberto Ernesto Gyemant’s tales of playing records back to musicians who hadn’t heard them since they left the studio 40 years ago. But Gyemant shares enough detailed lore that you’ll find yourself getting schooled without knowing it, or minding.

By Bill Meyer

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