Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


The upheavals in popular music of the '60s and '70s happened all over the world. Music critic Milo Miles has a review of a series of anthologies that tell the story of vintage pop in Panama.

(Soundbite of music)

MILO MILES: In a recent Fresh Air piece, I talked about the timeless allure of legendary dance clubs like the Palladium in New York. But just as fascinating, in their way, are vibrant music scenes that never became more than regional hot spots. One lovely example that's recently come to light through reissue anthologies is Panama in the '60s and '70s.

With the straightforward titles of "Panama!," "Panama! 2" and "Panama! 3," these collections resulted from actions that have to happen any time an unknown scene is exposed to the wider world. Somebody, in this case a fellow named Roberto Gyemant, has to go around to radio stations and secondhand stores that haven't thrown out their old vinyl, and then, as they say, start digging through the crates. Pretty soon, irresistible treasures show up.

(Soundbite of music)

MILES: While searching for records, Gyemant concentrated on the years from the mid-'60s to the late '70s and discovered bands influenced by South America, particularly Colombia; and the Caribbean, particularly Cuba and Puerto Rico, rather than countries to the north. Panama is both a bridge and a crossroads, so the cheerful combination of styles can be startling. Is Sir Jablonsky's "Juck Juck Pt. 1" calypso? Reggae? Salsa? More like a madcap combo of all three.

(Soundbite of song, "Juck Juck Pt. 1")

SIR JABLONSKY (Singer): (Singing) A joker in English. A joker in Spanish. (Foreign language spoken) lord what is this? Joke. Joke. Joke. A joke in the front, joke in the back. (Foreign language spoken)Oh Lord, what is that? Joke. Uh-huh. Good luck. Joke. Joke. Oh.

MILES: This Panamanian music was also the creation of a time as well as a place. Not only did musicians cover salsa stars like Willie Colon, but the forces of soul and funk were felt on the isthmus as much as anywhere else. This could misfire - James Brown is imitated but not even close to duplicated on these anthologies - but could also produce magic, like this version of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."

(Soundbite of song, "Ain't No Sunshine")

MILES: The "Panama!" anthologies introduce some delightful, sturdy bands - I'm particularly fond of the Silvertones and Maximo Rodriguez and His Panama Stars - but, sadly, no extraordinary vocalists. More important, amidst all the diversity, what exactly is Panamanian about the music? Although indigenous folk forms certainly play a part, I think the answer concerns an attitude more than a sound.

The finest tracks on the "Panama!" collections have the feel of a lovable, lighthearted scavenger hunt through a worldwide marketplace of music. These tunes are as unselfconsciously multicultural as any I've heard.

Begin with "Panama! 2," the most consistent and high-energy of these collections, as well as the best balance of folkloric and urban-fusion. You may even get caught up enough to agree with the boast that ends one number: Panama - bridge to the world, heart of the universe.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed the "Panama!" anthologies on the Soundway label.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We have this correction to an interview we broadcast about tobacco last week. New York Times reporter Duff Wilson referred to a government case against tobacco companies as a criminal conviction. In fact, the tobacco companies were found guilty of violating civil racketeering laws.

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: