Soundway has been a godsend of a label, digging up lost-world music treasures the old-fashioned way: by asking collectors and visiting countries to dig through record stores. And a treasure is exactly what Panama! 3 is. The heat given off by Little Francisco Greaves’ “Moving-Grooving,” all heavy percussion and stabbing guitar, is worth the price of admission. But the album is remarkable for the peek it offers into funky tropical sounds that too often the mainstream doesn’t get to hear, except in watered-down or hit-parade fashion.
The names may be obscure — Lord Panama and the Stickers, Los Silvertones, Beby Castor, Black Czar — but the sounds are familiar. The Caribbean and Latin American influences (along with those from Europe) that trickled down to the tiny isthmus of Panama have been a constant foundation for emerging trends in the last 30 years of music, including Afro-Cuban soul, jazz fusion, and hip-hop, and they’re endlessly funky, endlessly vibrant. Many of the songs on Panama! 3 are close to 40 years old, and they still sound vital and fresh. Other dusted-off gems include Los Silvertones’ “Up Tight,” “Masters are Gone” by Sir Valentino con Combo Esclavos Alegres, and Ceferino Nieto’s “El Pajaro Zum Zum.”