Lord Kon Tiki

Lord Kon Tiki, one of Panama’s Calypso legends.

His real name is Alberto Allen Bryan and he was born in Calidonia, Republic of Panama on September 5, 1934 to Constantino Allen and Aydé Bryan. During his early childhood, like many other Westindian Panamanian children in Panama City, Alberto lived in the barrio of El Marañon, where he still lives to this day. He studied primary school at Pedro J. Sosa public school, where I attended, in the heart of Calidonia.

Kon Tiki got his start in music doing backup for one of the reigning Calypso talents of the time, Smokey, or Two-Gun Smokey, as he was also known. He participated in several radio programs on RPC Radio (Radio Continental) and throughout his career, within this unique genre, he has recorded around twenty 45 rpm’s and five long playing records. He has always competed with even the best in his class, Lord Cobra, Lord Delicious, Lord Panama, etc.

When asked which type of Calypso he considers to be better, that from Trinidad or from Panama, he responds that both are equally good except that Panamanian Calypso is sung in both English and Spanish and its rhythm is somewhat faster, while Trinidadian Calypso, on the whole (with a few exceptions coming from The Mighty Sparrow) is sung exclusively in English. Of course Lord Kon Tiki could never hide his high regard for Sparrow, whom he considers to be the highest and best interpreter of the genre.

His catchy name, of course, is as whimsical as many of his themes. He was christened Lord Kon Tiki by a popular radio show host, Harry Iglesias, in Panama, in honor of the great Kon-Tiki expedition that was successfully carried out in 1947, and was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary in 1951 (all the promotional rage of the time). This successful voyage of c.4300 miles proved that the islands in Polynesia were within the range of the replica of the balsa wood type of prehistoric South American vessel and that there was a very probable historic as well as anthropological link between the two areas of the world.

His greatest satisfaction, according to this humble, rather unassuming son of Panama’s urban artistic expression, was having sung in the Yellow Room in the Presidential Palace in San Felipe, having been interviewed by Time magazine, having participated in the filming of Panama, Land of Danger, and having dedicated a Calypso to his good friend the boxer, Ismael Laguna, El Tigre Colonense.

This story continues.

9 responses to “Lord Kon Tiki

  1. Kyle & Svet Keeton

    Did not realize that he made that many records.


    • Anjahla Bryan

      Me either. All those records they were jammin too in the house was his. I got to go through my mom’s records she played his vinyl on her uncle’s radio station —Anjahla

  2. Danny Fitzgerald

    Thanks for this! I only have one Lord Kon Tiki record which is “Panama Campeon/Tesa Party”. Lord Cobra also dedicated a calypso to Ismael Laguna in the late 1960s called “Mr. Laguna”, and it was released on the Padisco label. I had no idea Kon Tiki recorded a tribute too, I will be searching for it now!

    You can hear some Panamanian calypso at my youtube channel which is http://www.youtube.com/stroboscopicalia

  3. Peace,
    Thank you for writing this. I have been looking for some info about Lord Kon Tiki and have been able to find out very little so was excited to find your article and website.

  4. Stephen Johnson

    Hi, I found your articles on calypso very informative. The Lord Kon Tiki track is simply amazing. Are you able to provide links to any more tracks? I’m very curious to hear what Two Guns Smokey sounds like. I host a soca and calypso show on Radio Cardiff every Sunday from 11am until midday.

  5. Stephen,

    Good to know that, as always, Panamanian Calypso’s popularity has reached folks in other parts of the world; in your case, England.

    I will try to answer your question thusly: the few surviving Panamanian Calypsonians who are still with us all agree that the genre- in Panama- is dying out for lack of artists to interpret the music and lyrics. It is a shame but, even we, who seek to rescue and, in some way, restore this rich heritage can hardly find anyone with the original recordings- even on vinyl- to produce re-recordings. Lamentable situation but, with some investment, the uniqueness of our Panamanian calypsonians could be brought back.

    • Stephen Johnson

      Thank you very much for getting back to me. I’ve been playing Los Silvertones’ Old Buzzards on my radio show for a number of years, most often when I’m giving a listener of a certain age a birthday shout-out. Also, Lord Cobra has been a regular inclusion. Recently I’ve been exploring calypsos from outside the Caribbean Islands – Ghana and Nigeria for example, and also Costa Rica and Panama. The more I discover the more I realize the depth and breadth of the subject. Not surprising considering that this year we are celebrating the centenary of the first-ever recording of calypso. That’s a lot of music in 100 years.

      My radio show, called The Lime, has been on the air at Radio Cardiff since 2003. When I started It was all about keeping up to date with the latest soca sounds, but back then that wasn’t so easy so I started exploring the roots of soca so that I could put the current scene and sounds into some kind of context. And what a rich and rewarding journey that has been. While keeping up to date with soca is relatively easy these days, the real reward is going back and searching out the music’s history and evolution.

      And the exploration continues and, thanks to The Silver People Chronicle, I have now discovered the delights of Lord Kon Tiki’s I Only Had 15 cents. What I love about the track is the sheer anarchic joy of those taking part. When you listen to the record you just want to be in that bar with that band. They are having such a good time that you yearn to be a part of it. The lyrics put a smile on your face. Pure quality. While the trumpet playing is just plain crazy.