Panama’s unique position as a linking point of both continents and oceans means that its culture is a varied amalgamation of influences from both North and South America. This is most evident in its musical output, which in recent decades has expanded to conquer much of Latin America. Its most profitable export is the musical genre Reggaeton which is a distinctive mixture of Hip Hop, Reggae, and Latino music such as Salsa.
The movement began in 1970s Panama, when Jamaican workers immigrated to help to build the Panama Canal; their infusion of Reggae was borrowed by local musicians who used it to build up their own distinctive genre.
The first exponents of Reggaeton were DJs such as Nando Boom and El General who added Rap to the eclectic mixture of Reggae and Salsa in the 1980s, just as Hip Hop was beginning to boom in the United States. Their popularity began to spread beyond the shores of Panama, and Reggaeton began to become a transnational movement; it found special prominence in Puerto Rico and in the Latin American diaspora of North America.
Today Reggaeton is considered a vital part of the Latin American musical scene and its roots in Panama are often largely forgotten. It has found local exponents in many of the Caribbean nations and in places as far flung as Argentina. But its roots lie in the distinctive character of Panamanian society, and its status as a meeting point of cultures and traditions.
Image courtesy: El General – Shimmy Shimmy