The Congo Panamanian people have a long history in the Central American country. After centuries in Panama, they are now officially being recognized for their cultural contributions.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), encourages the celebration and universal respect of cultures around the world. In November 2018, UNESCO declared on its official webpage that the Congo Panamanian people and their expressions/culture would be included on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
its website, UNESCO states “nowadays, participants play congo, celebrate
their freedom, cheerfully sing about their everyday lives and perform
representations and sensual dances barefoot, to communicate with the earth.”
A small snippet on the website allows users to hear an audio
clip of a Congo song.
Another element of cultural significance of the Congo Panamanian people is the Congo dance of Panama, regarded as “the most unique and colorful manifestation of folklore in the province of Colon,” according to Panama City’s Casco Viejo school.
More than just a dance, it is also a way for participants to
express their pain, joy and feelings of anger. The dance was brought to Panama
by way of Africa from “Cimarrons,” or escaped slaves.
For the dance, women wear colorful dresses made of patchwork and the men
wear pants and a fringed shirt.
If you want to see the dance performed live and in living color, head to
Panama during February or March for the Festival of Diablos and Congos, as well
Congo Panamanian people are some of the descendants of
African slaves that were brought over to Panama from regions in Africa
including Guinea, Cameroon, Congo and Angola.
This official recognization by UNESCO is another step in
addressing the importance of Afro-Panamanians in Panama.
Since the 1990s, special congresses began to be formed throughout the country to address problems of the Afro-Panamanian people, as well as courses designed to study the roots of Afro-Panamanians.
Just like UNESCO, we must always take the time to pay respect to people of different cultures and appreciate the beauty of their cultural contributions, including the Congo Panamanian people.
It has been 20 years since America Ferrera’s dream of becoming an actor back true. She took to Instagram to reflect on the moment that her dream started to come true and it is a sweet reminder that anyone can chase their dreams.
America Ferrera shared a sweet post reflecting on the 20th anniversary of working on “Gotta Kick It Up!”
“Gotta Kick It Up!” was one of the earliest examples of Latino representation so many of us remember. The movie follows a school dance team trying to be the very best they could possibly be. The team was down on their luck but a new teacher introduces them to a different kind of music to get them going again.
After being introduced to Latin beats, the dance team is renewed. It taps into a cultural moment for the Latinas on the team and the authenticity of the music makes their performances some of the best.
While the movie meant so much to Latino children seeing their culture represented for the first time, the work was a major moment for Ferrera. In the Instagram post, she gushes over the celebrities she saw on the lot she was working on. Of course, anyone would be excited to see Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt hanging out. Yet, what stands out the most is Ferrera’s own excitement to realize that she can make money doing what she loves most.
“I wish I could go back and tell this little baby America that the next 20 years of her life will be filled with unbelievable opportunity to express her talent and plenty of challenges that will allow her to grow into a person, actress, producer, director, activist that she is very proud and grateful to be. We did it baby girl. I’m proud of us,” Ferrera reflects.
On a recent episode of ABC’s game show To Tell The Truth, three celebrity panelists were tasked to uncover the identity of a real mariachi singer.
Each contender embodied “non-traditional” attributes of mariachi culture either through physical appearance or language barriers, leaving the panelists stumped.
When it came time for the big reveal, with a humble smile 53-year-old Timoteo “El Charro Negro” stood up wowing everyone. Marveled by his talents, Timoteo was asked to perform unveiling his smooth baritone voice.
While not a household name in the U.S., his career spans over 25 years thriving on the catharsis of music.
Originally from Dallas, Texas, Timoteo, born Timothy Pollard, moved to Long Beach, California with his family when he was eight years old. The move to California exposed Pollard to Latin culture, as the only Black family in a Mexican neighborhood.
As a child, he recalled watching Cantinflas because he reminded him of comedian Jerry Lewis, but musically he “got exposed to the legends by chance.”
“I was bombarded by all the 1960s, ’70s, and ’50s ranchera music,” Timoteo recalls to mitú.
The unequivocal passion mariachi artists like Javier Solis and Vicente Fernandez possessed heavily resonated with him.
“[The neighbors] always played nostalgic music, oldies but goodies, and that’s one thing I noticed about Mexicans,” Timoteo says. “They can be in their 20s but because they’ve grown up listening to the oldies it’s still very dear to them. That’s how they party.”
For as long as he can remember, Pollard “was born with the genetic disposition to love music,” knowing that his future would align with the arts.
After hearing Vicente Fernandez sing “Lástima Que Seas Ajena,” an awakening occurred in Pollard. While genres like hip-hop and rap were on the rise, Pollard’s passion for ranchera music grew. It was a moment when he realized that this genre best suited his big voice.
Enamored, Pollard began to pursue a career as a Spanish-language vocalist.
At 28, Timoteo began learning Spanish by listening and singing along to those artists he adored in his youth.
“When I decided that I wanted to be a mariachi, I didn’t think it was fair to exploit the culture and not understand the language,” he says. “If I’m going to sing, I need to be able to communicate with my audience and engage with them. I need to understand what I’m saying because it was about honor and respect.”
Pollard began performing local gigs after picking up the language in a matter of months. He soon attracted the attention of “Big Boy” Radio that adorned him the name Timoteo “El Charro Negro.”
Embellishing his sound to highlight his Black heritage, Pollard included African instruments like congas and bongos in his orchestra. Faintly putting his own spin on a niche genre, Pollard avoided over-saturating the genre’s sound early in his career.
Embraced by his community as a beloved mariachi, “El Charro Negro” still encountered race-related obstacles as a Black man in the genre.
“There are those [in the industry] who are not in the least bit thrilled to this day. They won’t answer my phone calls, my emails, my text messages I’ve sent,” he says. “The public at large hasn’t a problem with it, but a lot of the time it’s those at the helm of decision making who want to keep [the genre] exclusively Mexican.”
“El Charro Negro” persisted, slowly attracting fans worldwide while promoting a message of harmony through his music.
In 2007, 12 years into his career, Pollard received a golden ticket opportunity.
In a by-chance encounter with a stagehand working on Fernandez’s tour, Pollard was offered the chance to perform onstage. The singer was skeptical that the offer was legit. After all, what are the chances?
The next day Pollard went to his day job at the time and said, “a voice in my head, which I believe was God said, ‘wear your blue velvet traje tonight.'”
That evening Pollard went to a sold-out Stockton Area where he met his idol. As he walked on the stage, Pollard recalls Fernandez insisting that he use his personal mic and band to perform “De Que Manera Te Olvido.”
“[Fernandez] said he did not even want to join me,” he recollects about the show. “He just was kind and generous enough to let me sing that song on his stage with his audience.”
The crowd applauded thunderously, which for Pollard was a sign of good things to come.
In 2010, he released his debut album “Me Regalo Contigo.” In perfect Spanish, Pollard sings with great conviction replicating the soft tones of old-school boleros.
Unraveling the rollercoaster of relationships, heart-wrenchingly beautiful ballads like “Me Regalo Contigo” and “Celos” are his most streamed songs. One hidden gem that has caught the listener’s attention is “El Medio Morir.”
As soon as the track begins it is unlike the others. Timoteo delivers a ’90s R&B love ballad in Spanish, singing with gumption as his riffs and belts encapsulate his unique sound and story.
Having appeared on shows like Sabado Gigante, Don Francisco Presenta, and Caso Cerrado in 2011, Timoteo’s career prospered.
Timoteo hasn’t released an album since 2010 but he keeps his passion alive. The singer has continued to perform, even during the Covid pandemic. He has high hopes for future success and original releases, choosing to not slow down from his destined musical journey.
“If God is with me, who can be against me? It may not happen in a quick period of time, but God will make my enemies my footstool,” he said.
“I’ve continued to be successful and do some of the things I want to do; maybe not in a particular way or in particular events, but I live in a very happy and fulfilled existence.”