I’m no ethnomusicologist (because university is hella expensive), but I do know that reggae and its variations is a pretty big deal in Panama. Reggae en español, a.k.a. plena, took off in Panama around the late ’70s although roots reggae had already been introduced at least a decade earlier. It eventually gave rise to reggaeton and dancehall, the former which became even more popular in Puerto Rico than it did in Panama, thanks to musical legends such as El General whose music is as ubiquitous as any other legendary Spanish-language artist (re: Julio Iglesias, Vicente Fernandez, etc.).
I reached out to a number of my Panameñxs for help, and they kindly named a few artists to keep track of…and there were plenty! I whittled it down to a few of my favorites, although this list is by no means definitive or comprehensive. It is, at best, an introduction and primer to one of Panama’s most popular musical genres.
Banton is one of the more popular artists of the genre. I deduced that by noting the comparably higher production values of his videos, which usually begin with a two-minute skit. It also helps that he’s been around since 1996 albeit as a reggae artist. In 2010, he shifted away from reggae to reggaeton and dancehall.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Castro (who also went by El Gato De Las 15 Vidas for a time) was birthed at a nightclub when the floor was packed thanks to a medley of El General’s best. Castro has plenty of songs certified to get asses shaking in the club, in the car, your homegirl’s bachelorette party, etc. such as “Sacude Lo Tuyo” and “Rakataka Dance.” He takes a few serious turns on songs like “La Realidad Del Ghetto” and “Yo No Quiero Oir Eso.”
Dubosky also got his start in reggae music but made the leap to dancehall/reggaetón sometime around 2007. This guy has NO CHILL whatsoever when it comes to romance. His songs are all about lost love, calling out cheaters, women living & dealing with the wrong men, and so forth. My favorite line of his comes off “Prohibido Canalearse” where he says “te cambiaste el corazon por una calculadora.” Damn…can anyone else see their breath in this room? Anyone?
El Boy C
Also known as El Boys C (plural) and El Don Del Town. The artist from Colón has collaborated with a number of notable artists and producers such as El Bakan, DJ Tiechan, DJ Josi, and, most recently, Rvssian and Vybz Kartel.
At 41 years old, Leavitt Zambrano, a.k.a. Japanese, is one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) dancehall artists in the game today. He claims to have started his musical career in 1987 although his first official release didn’t arrive until 1999. Japanese was also a member of Scare Dem Crew alongside Danger Man (RIP), Comandante, and Saik.
There’s an interesting story about Mr. Fox, born Miguel Ángel Tesis Henri, who had a long-running feud with Danger Man for a couple of years. Fox dropped a verse calling out plena artists who front their hustle. Danger Man took it as a personal insult and started a feud between Fox’s Just Do It Clan and his Scare Dem Crew. The feud peaked when Fox and others allegedly assaulted Danger at a night club. Fox served jail time while Danger required over 220 stitches on his upper body and face. The feud ended thanks to the intervention of Fox’s mother who asked Danger for his forgiveness while her son served a prison sentence.
Roberto de los Ríos Reyes, a.k.a. Latin Fresh, is also up there in age at 39 years old. He scored his first hits in 1995 with “Tranquilo” and “Ella Se Arrebata.” He spent a few years with Sony Music and Universal Music but now runs things independently under Posso Music.