Panama Music – Types, Musicians, and More

Types of Panama Music and Musicians of Note

Panama, a small country in Central America, has a unique and diverse history, culture, and population. One can truly say that Panama is a melting pot of traditions and ideas. Nowhere else is this diversity more present than in Panama’s music industry. Panamas music has, and continues to, undergo evolution and change. The history, politics, population, and environment of the country influence and affect the music and the culture.

History - indigenous Music

The history of Panama has greatly influenced the current music of the country. Panama was originally inhabited by several groups of indigenous tribes, the largest of which were the Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva tribes. The influence of these tribes extended throughout present day Panama, Columbia, and Venezuela. The musical influence of these tribes can still be felt today throughout the country. These tribes are known for their contribution of the mejoranera, a five-stringed guitar and the rabel, a violin with three strings. These unique instruments are popular in the traditionalmusic known as Saloma and Mejorana. This distinctive type of music combines the ancient languages of the indigenous tribes as well as their instrumental contributions. The people of Panama are known for the extreme amount of pride that they have for their indigenous roots, and they use their music to celebrate this history and the culture. The music traditions are passed on to the younger population. This helps to preserve the language and the traditions that have been lost during colonization.

European Influence

In the early 15th century the Spanish, led by Christopher Columbus, established the first European settlements in present day Panama. The European conquers brought with them to Central America their own set of beliefs, traditions, and of course music. These musical traditions had a significant effect on the culture and musical growth of the country. The music, like other aspects of the culture, experienced a mixing effect commonly known as the metizo phenomenon. The new music of Panama combined with the traditions of the indigenous brought about a new wave of musical evolutions. The Spanish introduced the guitar, the trumpet, and Strobilus (a four line stanza associated with poetry and song). Due to the ethnocentrism of the Europeans invaders much of the language of the indigenous people was barred from music. As a result Spanish became the dominant language not only in religion, business, politics, but also in music and poetry. Several important genres of music resulted from this mixture, this included the Cumbia,Tamborito, Salsa, and Tipico. These types of music combined the customs, traditions, costumes, and stories of the indigenous with the new European influences. Salsa, the most popular of these music traditions has brought worldwide attention to the varied and wonderful music of Panama. The great Salsa legends of Panama included Ruben Blades, Romulo Castro, Tuira and Luis Russell. Russell became famous after collaborating with Louie Armstrong in the 1920s.

African Influence

As a new colony of Spain, Central America became a very important center for agriculture and trade. As a result of this growth Panama became largely populated with slaves imported from Africa. These slaves brought with them a culture and custom of their own very different from the indigenous and the Europeans. One of the greatest influences that native Africans had on the music of Panama was the introduction of unique drumming patterns, innovative dance routines, as well as dramatic story telling and vibrant dramatization. The African influence can be seen in the popular dance rhythms and music known as the Congo. This world recognized music combines the drumming and dancing of the Africans with the language and instruments of the Spanish. In the modern years the African influence can also be seen in the development of music genres known as Calypso, Jazz, and Spanish Reggae .

Modern Panama Music

In 1903 Panama separated from Colombia, forming their own separate nation state. As the nation of Panama embarked on its own independent future. The music like the politics of Panama also took on its own form separate from its neighbors in Central and South America. Jazz, one of the most popular of these new musical tradition, has a long and beautiful history in Panama. Jazz first becoming popular in Panama during World War One. Some of the greatest Jazz stars originated from Panama, the most famous is Luis Russell. Russell was a pianist, composer and director. Due to the U.S’s close political relations with Panama due to their cooperation with the Panama cannel, the relations between these countries also grew in the field of music. Many of Panama’s great musical performers traveled to the US to work with U.S bands and orchestras. The popularity of Jazz increased in Panama as went on. In the 1940s the port city of Colón boasted over ten local jazz orchestras. Some of the great Jazz names from Panama included Victor Boa, Clarence Martin, Barbara Wilson, French Horn player John "Rubberlegs" McKindo, and most recently the renowned pianist Danilo Perez. Panama has continued to cultivate its Jazz scene, hosting an annual nationwide jazz festival attended by many Latin American musicians.

Panama has paved its own route in music as well as adding to existing music trends. Panama advanced and influenced the music world by investing and encouraging its artists. Calypso, which is an amazing blend of Panama’s traditional music with the Pan-African sounds originating from Jamaica, Tinadad and Tabago, is a famous genre of music in region.Calypso is responsible for bring worldwide attention to the beautiful music of Panama. The great performers include Lord Panama, Delicious, Two-Gun Smokey, Lady Trixie, Lord Kitty, and Lord Cobra. The most important of the music developments in the modern age are Spanish Reggae, Vallenato, and Regatone. The current music of Panama is flourishing and increasing in popularity making an independent and unique name for itself in the world of music. Today the most popular of those music traditions are Rock en Espanol, which is becoming increasingly popular in all of Latin America. This music combines the traditions of Rock and Roll and Spanish Language. The most popular of these groups are the Radicales Libres, Skamilonga, Los Rabanes, Xantos Jorge, Cage 9, Factor VIII, Os Almirantes, Los 33, Señor Loop, Roba Morena, Filtro Medusa, Lemmiwinks, Skraped Knees, Calibre 57. These groups have become popular on MTV Latin America as well as the top 100 Latin American songs.


If you were to visit Panama, I would argue that it is impossible for anyone to not see the importance that music plays in the culture, politics, history, and education of Panama. Whether you are attending a fiesta, riding in a taxi cab, or simply walking down the street, music encompasses all aspects of life. Music represents the past, the present and the future of Panama. There is no way to predict where the future of Panama music will go, the only thing that is certain that will continue to flourish.