I’ve written before about the Musica Tipica (Traditional Music) of Panama in previous posts. Just as American popular music has different genres, jazz, rock & roll, rhythm & blues, rap and hip-hop, so, to, does Tipica. So far I’ve been able to identify three: cumbia, tambor and decima. Cumbia is typified by Samy y Sandra Sandoval, Nenito Vargas and La Plumas Negras, Ulpiano Vergara and others. Cumbia is accented by accordion and drums with definite Latin rhythms but distinct from such other genres as the samba, mambo, salsa, etc.
My first encounter with the Decima was about a year or so ago. I was waiting for the bus back to Boquerón at the caseta on Calle Miguel A. Brenes at the edge of the Romero Supermarket parking lot. A stage had been set up and a small group of high school kids were playing. They sort of reminded me of the band my brothers David and Gary had had when they were in high school, “Rigor Mortis and the Standstills.” (Why that never became as big as “The Grateful Dead” I’ll never understand.)
The youngsters got a respectful hand from the crowd and then two men got on stage. One had a guitar and the other simply a microphone. The guitar set up a rhythm reminiscent of the Spanish flamenco and the man with the guitar started singing in a nasally drone. Every now and then I caught a word, mostly “Chiricana” which is a resident of Chiriquí province of the female persuasion.
I thought it was absolutely horrible. But the audience would laugh from time to time and I thought they were laughing at his horrible performance. When he finished there was a good round of applause which baffled me. Fortunately, just as he started into a second number my bus appeared and I escaped.
Every once in a while on my favorite local radio station, CHT (pronounced say-ah-che-tay) I would hear this similar musical style and while my ability to decipher Spanish is still quite limited I began to hear certain rhyming patterns while still thinking the genre was horrible, as a whole. The nasal, non-melodic quality simply wasn’t friendly to the ear.
The other day I was having my $2 hair cut at the bus terminal. The barber had his radio tuned to CHT and I easily recognized the Samy y Sandra. I told him that I listened to the station all the time and knew about cumbia and tambor styles and then asked him what the style where a man accompanied by guitar was called. After a couple of attempts he understood and said it was called “Decima de Panamá.” He wrote it down for me so I would be able to look it up on the internet. What I found was very interesting.
The “Decima” has a history dating back to the 16th century and is popular in Puerto Rico, Ecuador and other Latin American countries besides Panama. According to the Wikipedia: “In Panama, the tenth usually consists of ten lines, each with eight syllables, rhyming as follows: ABBAACCDDC. One way of writing the tenth in Panama is starting with four lines rhyming XYYX. This is followed by four groups of ten verses each. The last verse of each of these groups of ten is one of the verses of the first group of four.”
Decimas are divided into categories:
- A DIVINE: This group includes all decimero whose theme or motives of a religious matters and those relating to sacred history. Among the former are real songs and prayers, praise, or praise to God and Jesus, the Virgin and the saints. Those who are nourished by the sacred history deal more particularly on the life and most of all, on the Saviour’s passion and penalties and sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Abound within the same genre compositions are fantastic inventory of relics, amulets and sacred garments have the singer says. That sometimes manifests itself in such piety is not so much as tenths vanity, not detracts from these creations.
- THE ARGUMENT: This is a genre whose themes and content tenths express “know” whether this product acquired by transmission or reflection of their own. The acquired knowledge include knowledge that give geography, natural sciences, mathematics, grammar, history, medicine and numerous practical arts. Knowing the product of the reflection and experience of the poet, commits fully in what the social and political criticism, morals, and in addition, includes all aspects of popular philosophy. Below indicate the procedures by which poets acquired their knowledge by transmission.
- FUNNY: The singers and songwriters together under this heading, all the tithe to cultivate “the chistería” as they say. As you might suspect, it is in them humorous or roguish reasons and the main intention is to make them laugh. However, variants containing these tenths and unexpected elements, as we shall see to dissect them.
- OF LOVES: Inspiring or give life to the tenths of the reasons this group born of the passion of love and annexed adventures, reflections on love and its vagaries suggest, the adventures that lead to awakening, course and end of the love experience. As discussed, this group is so diverse and extensive, as befits the vital reason that feeds it. This simple classification, we repeat, is that this poetry-loving people made without premeditation. We consider it right and proper to frame an analytical study of folklore, as it must also include any intellectual effort related to the same creations.
- CONTROVERSY: The audience favorite mode, conocidad popularly as the “heads up”, this issue is left to the end of the night cantadera, is an encounter between two or more singers to prove the superiority tenths of an improviser compared to other poets usually taken as resources for their physical defects verses, gestural, among other issues to discredit his opponent with his rhymes, making it a real battle poetry.
Decima are most often presented at events called Cantaderas and the performers presenting the various forms described above.
This is one of the controversy battles:
Not all of the Decima performers are male. Here’s a group of women on the theme of amor:
So rappers and hip-hoppers need to realize that their kind of “music” has a tradition dating back half a millenia.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9