Isthmus insanity

Pub date July 1, 2009
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer


SONIC REDUCER Roberto Gyemant, a.k.a. DJ Beto, doesn’t need to tell you how extra-zesty Panamanian music is: all he has to do is play "Juck Juck Pt. 1," by Sir Jablonsky, off Panama! 2: Latin Sounds, Cumbia Tropical and Calypso Funk on the Isthmus 1967-77 (Soundway), the new compilation curated by the San Francisco native. The bubbly calypso-reggae-funk mutant of a track gets its playful tenterhooks into you — and refuses to let go. "If someone can tell me the genre of that song, I’d love to hear it," Gyemant marvels over fruit juice in the courtyard of Haus. "This guy! ‘I juck them in Spanish, and I juck them in English,’ then he speaks in patois. You’re like, ‘OK, this is a special country!’"

Gyemant’s taken his hot shoe back to the burning avenues of Panama more than 20 times since he first discovered the country’s brassy, highly spiced musical hybrids baking in forgotten grooves buried in neglected radio station LP libraries. At the time, in 2003, he was living in Costa Rica, working on a novel. But the music — and an ever-expiring tourist visa — brought him back to root out more old long-players and to get the stories behind the songs, a major endeavor since the pressings in the tiny country were so small and little info existed on musicians like Papi Brandao, whose infectious, accordion-propelled "La Murga de Panama" runs a Puerto Rican bomba through his tipica (folklorico) ensemble’s Afro-Cuban influences. The fruit of Gyemant’s loving labors: Panama! (Soundway, 2006) and now its tipica-flavored sequel, as well as at least one book, a forthcoming encyclopedia on Latin jazz and dance music from 1930 to 1975.

Gyemant — who also put together Soundway’s 2008 comp Colombia! and the upcoming Colombia! 2 — first got bit by the bug in David, Panama, where he stumbled on a radio station willing to part with its old LPs, crammed floor-to-ceiling in a back room. "The guys really let me loose on it," he recalls. Without a portable turntable, Gyemant tried to figure out which albums and 7-inches were worth buying (hint: he stayed away from the ones listing boleros and clung to the records that mentioned, say, Afrofunk). Talking to collectors and fans led him to such players as Francisco "Bush" Buckley of Menique el Panameno con Bush y los Magnificos, who drove him around Panama and took him to old musicians’ hangouts. Still, the writer wasn’t sure if he was on the right track until he started selling funk LPs on eBay, and Soundway head Miles Cleret bought them all. The two began trading MP3s, which led to the comps.

What makes Panama’s musical blend so sizzling? The nation’s complex, fluid multicultural melting pot. The Afro-Antillean workers of Caribbean descent who came to build the canal — and who made up about 20 percent of the small population — played a major part, opines Gyemant. "Per capita, I’ve never found so many calypso boogaloo records," he raves. "It’s like, what?! Or soul guaracha. Or bossa funk. But I think the music speaks for itself."


With DJ Beto, DJ Guillermo, and Vinnie Esparza

Fri/3, 10 p.m., $5

Elbo Room

647 Valencia St

(415) 552-7788



Get it straight: Tartufi is not playing the Fourth of July eight-band marathon at El Rio that the duo’s Lynn Angel has organized for four years. Nevertheless, during a break from the rock band summer camp at Sausalito’s Bay Area Discovery Museum, where she and Brian Gorman teach 4- to 7-year-olds how to write songs, Angel makes a case for the holiday. "We have a healthy addiction to fireworks," she says, while Gorman chimes in that he likes the ones the make his stomach shake. San Franciscans must wait until August to shake for Tartufi at the Rock Make Street Festival. Before then, the endlessly creative, good-humored duo hit the U.K., where the excellent rock-symphonic Nests of Waves and Wires (Southern) is garnering raves. "We’ve been getting compared to Animal Collective every other day, which is kind of strange to me," says Angel. "I can’t see the connection myself, but I won’t turn it down!"


Sat/4, 1:30 p.m., $8

El Rio

3158 Mission, SF


Aug. 23, noon, free

Treat at 17th Ave., SF