Words by Wayne Marshall—
When reggae en español first got going in Panama in the early 80s, it was all about making cassettes for local bus drivers to lure customers to their diablos rojos, and rocking outdoor parties with roving soundsystems known as discos moviles. With the beginnings of professional recording and vinyl pressing/distribution in the mid-80s— and the emergence of Spanish reggae pioneer Renato—reggae artists singing in Spanish began making inroads into national radio and, eventually, to music videos on local television. Initially, and still today, national reggae hits tended toward romantic themes (Renato’s late 80s smash, “La Chica de los Ojos Cafe,” was the breakthrough in this regard), but occasionally a more gangsta dancehall jam worked its way past censors and other gatekeepers.
Jam & Suppose’s “Camion Lleno de Gun” (“Trailer Load of Guns”), ca. 1992, is notable as the first of Panama’s reggae en español scene to crack into the national mainstream without pandering to sentimentality but rather by offering a faithful reproduction of how rudeboy brethren in Kingston and New York were fashioning themselves. Like many Panamanian reggae songs, it bears close resemblance to contemporary Jamaican recordings. The title and chorus, of course, riff on Shabba Ranks’s “Trailer Load of Girls,” and Jam & Suppose make melodic nods to Super Cat (“Ghetto Red Hot,” “Don Dada”) and other iconic, lilting tunes that dancehall deejays deploy like well-worn samples.
Visually, there are at least as many nods to JA and the US, and ’nuff local texture. The video opens with a truck from Electro Disco, one of the reigning discos moviles of the day, pulling up to some ruins. Instead of speaker boxes, Jam & Suppose and some helpful soundboys carry out coffins full of guns as if setting up to defend the abandoned fort. The gun-toting deejays (who are also the blackest folk in the video) sport more or less identical outfits, dripped in denim with Afrocentric splashes of color — hip-hop style b/w raggamuffin cool. They’re accompanied by coffee-colored Fly Girl (and Boy) dancers jumping around on the ruins looking more ready for zumba class than a rub-a-dub session (the machine-gun batty at 0:52 begs to differ).
The transnational dimensions of the production — and life in general — are further underscored in the chorus itself, with Nueva York bigged-up as their guns’ point of origination:
Tengo un camión lleno de gun
Lo traigo ‘e Nueva York
Para defender mi vida
De cualquier matón
I have a truck full of guns
I bring it from New York
To defend my life
From any killer*
The song is a Cutty Ranks catalog of badman business, a gleeful accounting of their armory that asks the audience to play along: “Push up your hands if you have a gun! / Scream out loud if you have a gun!” Beyond such usual suspects as Uzis and Colt 45s, we hear of dynamite and tear gas, and their over-the-top celebration of firepower extends to boasts about selling guns to the likes of Bush, Gorbachev, Ghadafi, Fidel, and Saddam.
Despite their extraordinary badness, the video’s ending is made for TV: we witness a surreal morality-tale as Jam & Suppose are rounded up by the police while their Jazzercisey compatriots keep on doing the running man, like the ghosts of the past they are.
* Shoutout to my co-editor on the Reggaeton book, Raquel Rivera, for aiding with translation and interpretation