Island Rhythm Dan VitaleJuly 5, 2014
The islands of Bocas Del Toro, Panama are filled with music. From the nightclubs to the beaches, from the homes to the streets everywhere you turn you can hear it floating through the air. And you can see it, the people here love music so much that when they hear something that moves them they dance their ways to work or home, and sometimes they stop what they are doing and dance right where they are. These islands are music; you can feel it, the vibe, the flow and the beat. It is no wonder why Dan Vitale felt at home when he arrived here over a decade ago. This music man is our next Bocas VIP (Very Interesting Person).
Dan Vitale is originally from the Northeastern Part of the United States, but he is a Ska man at heart. Ska, according to sources, “is a genre of music that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, and was the precursor to Rocksteady and Reggae. Ska combines elements of Caribbean Mento and Calypso with American Jazz and Rhythm and Blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the upbeat. In the early 1960s, Ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica”, and with descendants of Jamaica in Bocas Del Toro, that music has a place on the island. And Dan Vitale has brought the magic of his music here.
Music has always been a part of him and in the early eighties in the Northeastern U.S. he formed a group and took his music to the people with his incredible band Bim Skala Bim. He told me a bit about his group, his music family, and “Bim Skala Bim was formed in 1983 with the idea that the time was right to bring a blend of rock with traditional Jamaican Ska and English “Two-Tone” Ska to America From that point on, along with a few other like-minded bands such as the Toasters, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, BIM SKALA BIM set out to make the United States a hotbed for Ska music. Playing thousands of shows between 1983 and 2003 across the country and around the world, “The Best U.S. Ska Band” (New Musical Express) made their hybrid style of Ska, reggae and rock familiar to fans worldwide.” Yes, Dan Vitale is a Rock Star!
I have had the great pleasure of meeting Dan and speaking with him, not just about his music, (the stories could fill books!) but about Bocas, Bastimentos and his visions of what the music scene here could become. He is a very interesting human with a deep love of all music and the desire to keep the local music and its roots alive. He is part of our island rhythm. He has created his own little world here in the archipelago, calling Isla Bastimentos his home. He fell in love and took time to relax from the crazy life style of a famous musician. He found the rhythm of the island soothing and the people welcoming, he had a baby girl and began dreaming of ways to help the island people showcase their own unique sound. He found inspiration and home. I had some specific questions for Dan about his thoughts on Isla Bastimentos, Bocas Del Toro and the music scene.
Dan came to Bocas almost exactly 12 years ago. I asked him what his first impression was and what made him decide to stay. “Well, I had been looking for a place to buy land and build a house, restaurant, nightclub combination. I looked all over the Caribbean starting in Jamaica, then Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and finally Bocas.” It was Bocas because “Well it fit all my priorities, titled land, low taxes, no hurricanes, U.S dollars, great diving and fishing, and plenty of nightlife and expats. But really what made me stay was the overwhelming feeling of being home. This will sound like a fable but Bastimentos was magical to me from the first minute I set foot on the island…..I got off the boat onto Teddy’s market wharf and I hear two beautiful children joyfully calling look look….and as I looked off the end of the wharf I saw two young dolphins jump completely out of the water and cross each other. I then went to Teddy’s shop, I instantly liked Teddy and I asked him if any of The Beachboy’s where around. I had read about them on some travel websites. Joe and Cody live a couple of doors down. My brother Jack and I bought a case of beer and within 20 minutes we were sitting in The Garden at Beverly’s Hill singing and playing music together.” Dan found the perfect piece of land on the point of Bastimentos and began to construct his dream of a restaurant, cabins and a live music venue. Known as Dogwood, Dan built his vision, a place where people could find relaxation, charm, the sea and most important to him a place to make music. The property has seen the beginning of many music ventures and beneath the big almond tree songs have been born and dreams have been realized.
I wanted to know what his thoughts were on the music scene here in Bocas. “I love that it is finally really growing and beginning to thrive.” He is making big steps in helping it grow and improve, along with other music lovers. “I have been recording demos for local singers for years. Joe, Chochi, Banti, Johnny, Roni, and Manito from Bastimentos along with several others. They just finished up an album for Los Mixtos, produced by Lukas Bell, Sam Zimmerman and myself at the new El Nido studios. It is the first album to come from this new Bocas studio that will focus on recording local musicians. This is only the first of many planned local releases and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.” The first single from this CD has been released, Almond Tree, and it chronicles the many things that have happened behind the cover of the giant almond tree in Dan’s yard at Lookout Point, in Old Bank, Isla Bastimentos. (A link to the song is below!)
He ended by telling me for his love of the islands and their people, “I live in Bastimentos and I love knowing everyone. I love how sharing, forgiveness, and looking after each other comes so naturally to most everyone who lives here…..and of course you have to love that we have no cars and can swim most every day.”
You can catch Dan and his band Bim Skala Bim out on the road this summer as they present their newest album Chet’s Last Call. Dan can sometimes be spotted behind the microphone at open-mic nights around town, or of course in that cool new music studio keeping the rhythm of the islands alive! And if you make it to Isla Bastimentos, take a walk down to the point and look for that giant almond tree, chances are you will hear some good island music.
You can catch a live session of the band Dan just finished recording, Los Mixtos, this Sunday July 6 over at Kayukos on Red Frog Beach. The all local group will be performing their new CD in its entirety and it will be amazing! Now you can see why Mr. Dan Vitale is one of Bocas’ VIP (Very Interesting People). Our next installment of the VIP series will be out soon!