This Documentary Rescues the History of Calypso Music in Panama

Lead Photo: 'Una noche de calypso' still courtesy of IFF Panama
'Una noche de calypso' still courtesy of IFF Panama
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It took an Argentine to go to Panama and rescue calypso music. That was the takeaway after Fernando Muñoz‘s Una noche de calypso (A Night of Calypso) premiered at the International Film Festival in Panama earlier this month. The musical documentary, which is part history lesson and part concert, is a full-blown celebration of this genre of Afro-Caribbean music—it’s Panama’s own spin on The Buena Vista Social Club, only with more steel drums and ukuleles. Following Leslie, Monchi, Ringing Bell, Palmer, Víctor and Edward, members of the Grupo Amistad as they prepare to put on a showcase, A Night of Calypso takes viewers on a journey through how Panamanian calypso came to be. As sociologist Gerardo Maloney puts it in the film, “Calypso is true, describes facts, situations and identifies people who were important for the African people.”

As he shared in a Q&A after the film, Muñoz became fascinated with this recognizable music and immediately wanted to learn more about it. “The calypso genre is really beautiful and has a great history. As soon as you dig into it you end up being more enthralled with it. The history is immense,” he shared, “this is but a snippet of it.” In interviews with the members of Grupo Amistad, as well as with leading scholars on this Trinidad-born genre, Muñoz’s doc hopes to lift the musical stylings of calypso back into the mainstream. The musical artists featured in the documentary that attended the IFF Panama premiere were quick to thank Muñoz for spotlighting their work—in all honesty, as they confessed, they feared the film would never actually be finished let alone be shown at all!

The documentary was such a hit in the fest that it won the People’s Choice Revista K Award for best documentary film. And though it doesn’t have any commercial engagements just the yet, the entire team was excited to see it so warmly received that we hope that changes very soon. Take a look at the doc’s trailer below.

A Night of Calypso screened as part of the International Film Festival Panama.