(I have given up on titling every post that doesn’t have a direct connection to our shipping container house construction as Ramblings. I see that I am going to mix and match, the titling was going to get boring, so sorry, but you are just going to have to sort through my posts to find the meat and potatoes.)
I mean, what can you expect? It is, after all, the rainy season here in Panama. But last year at this time we had brown grass in the yard. This year, well, Cynthia and I are talking seriously about building an ark. I wonder if we could use shipping containers? Today it has been raining hard and nearly nonstop for eight hours.
The rainy season is the time of the year for Panamanians to get the common cold and have it last for weeks and weeks. It is even more common for those Panamanians who have to walk five kilometers to and from work in the rain, and live in one room houses with dirt floors. The dampness is pervasive, and even though it is 69 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit, they get neither warm nor dry.
You might say that the woman who cleans our house lives off grid. Dirt floor, one room, no running water in the house, no electricity, a kerosene lamp for light at night. She, and her entire family, have been sick for weeks now. She managed to come to work today after almost two weeks, but by the end of the day she was looking done in, it was pouring nonstop with no end in sight, and I could see that she was dreading the long slog home. I said I would take her home, so off we went, and I deposited her within a five minute walk to her house.
On the way back, I turned the radio on and found one of the numerous stations that play Panamanian Folkloric music. I have come to really enjoy this music, as Armando likes to work to it while he weeds our gardens and such. It seems odd to me that a 27 year old man would rather listen to the folk music of his country rather than the Spanish Rap that is so popular with the younger set in Panama City. But listen he does, and therefore so do I.
Folkloric music is heavily loaded with accordion and guitar, and while it doesn’t have the oompah of German music, it does, surprisingly, have yodeling. But then again, I have some old cowboy music including Roy Rogers albums, and he could yodel as if he were wrangling mountain goats in Switzerland. Here’s a yodeling clip from The Roy Rogers 1939 movie, The Arizona Kid. All the men from the mountains here can yodel, or at least have a two-toned falsetto yell that they use to communicate in the hills. I can distinguish the difference between the yells of the various men who work in the area.
I have chosen three samples of Panamanian Folkloric music that I want to share with you. All are YouTube links that will open in new windows.
1. There is one group, Sammy Y Sandra Sandoval, that has taken the Folkloric music and updated it as kind of a slightly modernized crossover from the indigenous music that is so popular in the Interior of the country. They perform frequently all over Panama, and you can hear them on the radio every day. I heard about them about four years ago on the day I first arrived in Panama to check it out as a place for us to live. As far as I can tell, they are THE go-to entertainers of Panama. Watching this video took me back to the 60s, maybe Ricky Ricardo’s band in I Love Lucy. Give a look and listen.
2. Las Plumas Negras can also be heard on the Folkloric radio stations. I frequently catch them on 88.3 FM or 88.7 FM. They play live gigs around Panama on a regular rotation, often during the times of the various fiestas. They really display the yodel sound. Give a look and listen to Las Plumas Negras.
3. This third sample is very different from the previous two. I call them the Yellers, although cantaderas may be more accurate. These are often just one man with a honking big guitar, and they belt out various ballads of love and woe or flat out lies as if volume alone will show their amor or angst. Sometimes they will play with a band backing them up. Other times, they will sing at fiestas in a battle of the bands arrangement, each one out-lying the other, and there is often a fair amount of libations to lubricate the vocal cords. Oh, in this video you can see the authentic Panama Hat. Most “Panama hats” that are sold in the tourist traps are made in Ecuador and are very different from these hats. Often a man’s wife will weave the hat as a way to show pride in her man, much like a teenage girl may knit an oversize sweater for her boyfriend. Or at least that was the way it was in the 60s. I am told that the Panamanians from the Interior can tell where a man is from by the way he turns his brim. Some are up in the back. Some are up in the front. Some are flat all the way around, and still others are up in the back and the front. But I have yet to see it turned up on the sides like a Western cowboy hat. Oh, and check out the white shirts with the four pockets. It is the national shirt of Panama. Here is a sing-off between Bebo Vargas and Arcadio Camaño en Panamá. Fasten your seatbelt.
I am told that this music is an acquired taste, and I seem to have acquired it. I like American Blues, too, and the tales these two forms of music tell seem to be similar. I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of Panamanian Indigenous Music.
That’s all for now.