Panama’s influence on reggaeton is undeniable. The music genre’s roots can be traced back to the tropical country, where Panamanian buses have been known to blast the songs the world would play on repeat in the future without even knowing it.
From El General — also known as Edgardo Franco — to DJ El Chombo, who pioneered this genre, Panamanian artists (past and present) have revolutionized the beats that are today a staple in producing reggaeton music. Though El General has previously stated how his genre was more in tune with “Reggae en Español” (or “plena” as some call it) since he was influenced by Jamaican music — his footprint in reggaeton remains.
Not so long ago, Sech — a RichMusic artist, singer, songwriter, and producer, arguably Panama’s most sought after artist of the moment — sold out his first concert (first out of three) at San Juan, Puerto Rico’s iconic music venue, El Coliseo – colloquially known as “El Choli.” This is a major feat considering El Choli has also been an integral part of reggaeton’s booming prevalence.
Sech has previously worked with J Balvin and Daddy Yankee — artists who opened the way to new opportunities, including working with some of the most hardworking and emerging producers of our time, including Rike Music.
Manuel Cortes, who uses Rike Music as his stage name and partakes in RichMusic as well, is also a Panamanian visionary with dreams as majestic as Panama’s undying, equatorial spirit.
Cortes tells BELatina News how he envisioned his life immersed in the music industry as a young boy. Getting there was a rocky path that bruised him a few times. Yet, he persisted — and his resilience led him to produce music for some of reggaeton’s most notable figures.
A new beginning
It all started with a simple dream a few years ago in Panama, where Cortes would produce beats on a laptop his friend would lend him during school hours because he couldn’t afford one of his own.
BELatina News had the pleasure of speaking with Rike Music recently, and his determination and grit inspired us.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. It has also been translated from Spanish to English.
On how Rike Music started
I started pursuing music when I was 17 years old. I searched for my passions between the ages of 15 and 17 years old. I played soccer professionally at that time, but it wasn’t what I liked the most. I did it more to please my dad.
I was good, but it wasn’t like I wanted to get up early for it that much. And in that search, well, one day, I skipped school and went to my cousin’s house, a music producer here in Panama. He was already older and already knew more artists. It was with him that I began to work. His name is Kevin Da Silva. He is the person who has included me in the world of music in the sense that he gave me the first tips. He taught me the first things.
On his cousin’s role in his creative process
I have a work connection and friendship with my cousin. He is like my best friend. However, back then, I told him I didn’t want to make music with him because people would say that I was earning success on his back. I never wanted to be second best, his shadow, or people saying that I gained popularity because I was his cousin. But he has been essential in my life. He has motivated me a lot. I’m just missing my university degree, something he went after too, and I haven’t been able to do. He always told me to study and do both music and a career. He set the greatest example I have of how personable and professional a person can be.
On the power of friendship
There was a friend of mine who had a laptop. He saw that I wanted to make rhythms, so he took his laptop to school every day because I used his computer to create beats. He was also part of the process that helped me learn about computers.
On paving his path to success
Since I didn’t have the money and the equipment was very expensive, I had to work because my family couldn’t buy it. I am one of four siblings. So it was unrealistic that they were going to buy me my equipment. My brother also wanted to be an athlete, and my little sister wanted something else, so it wasn’t possible. I had to work as a child at school. I would record little by little, and I would have my things. I would record for some classmates at school who liked to rap and so on. I was also a bag boy at the supermarket. I worked as a mechanic’s assistant, washed cars too, and ran errands for neighbors to the store and supermarkets – all to collect what little I could and save for my vision. I was motivated to be able to make music. I remember that I bought my first computer, a used one, which cost me $250. But after two days, the laptop started to blow out smoke, and it burnt.
On his will to keep going
I worked for like six months for that. I was sad, but it motivated me even more because I felt that these were things that had to happen to me to at least learn a lesson. I was able to buy another computer with my mom’s help.
On the importance of his family’s influence
My mother worked in a company in charge of the casinos — the machines, the casinos — and on the weekends, she cleaned the machines to give them maintenance. Within that month she helped me buy a good computer. I think that was the start of everything.
I also have relatives who play traditional Panamanian music here in Panama, such as my grandfather, who passed away two years ago. He was actually from The Combo and was the greatest composer in Panama in terms of traditional music.
My mom sings and likes salsa. I spend all day listening to salsa here in my house, with her, dancing. My entire family is into salsa, merengue, and bachata.
On what is attached to his motivation
Well, I think that the most important thing is to give everything to my family. From the first day I started making music, I have been a person who had in mind to improve the living situation we were in, not only me but my whole family. Everything I earn, I do for the benefit of my family. In other words, if I win, I know my family will win too.
On how his Panamanian roots have inspired him
I am 100 percent Panamanian. Here in Panama, we listen to plena, and I love it. I am fascinated by everything that comes out, the new artists playing here because anyone comes here and can feel and live it. And that has pushed me to move forward with the genre of music I am creating. I incorporate that influence with beats from North America, such as R&B and Hip-Hop. That’s why I always try to make my rhythms have that personality that says, “Hey, this sounds like Rike Music.” In other words, they have that seal, and people recognize it. And so I’m trying to do the best I can, and good things do come out in the end.
On his dream collaboration
I would love to work with Drake. But do it differently. I would like to hear a dance style of a Panamanian beat. Also, another crazy dream is Justin Bieber and Rihanna. I don’t think anything is impossible. So for me, I think that would be so amazing.
My first dream, I’m not lying to you, was to work with Ozuna, and I was given the opportunity to work with him. So I feel that life and my hard work can give me that opportunity. I don’t know when, but working hard enough to get there and get together with the duros of the industry will be essential.
On this year’s pending projects
I have a lot of projects in the works right now. There’s a Sech album coming. I have a couple of songs there. There’s also an album by a guy who’s also with Carbon Fiber Music, and his name is Akim. I’m working towards everything I really wanted and how I have wanted to sound since I started. As my sound has evolved, I realize the great strides I’ve made. For example, I’ve not only worked with Sech but also grown with him. Aside from him, I’ve also been given the opportunity to work with other artists. Little by little, I see I am collaborating more with people from Panama and working on more international music. I would like that. I’m doing it anyway.
Also, pretty soon, there will be a big hit launching. This new single, I think, will be the biggest one I’ve created as of yet – after J Balvin with Sech’s single, of course. But I can’t say who it is. All I can say is that I am very happy and anxious. So, stay tuned.
Rike’s advice to other Latines pursuing music
Well, more than anything, anyone making music shouldn’t worry if they don’t see the light; they should put everything in God’s hands. Also, work hard. This is something that needs to be worked on daily. The one who does not work will realize it is very difficult for things to fall from the sky. But I feel that if your work is with conviction, you are clear on why you want to put in the work. Maybe it is to buy you a better house, buy the car you’ve always dreamt of, or be financially stable for yourself and your family. Above all, I want everyone who makes music to grow, and I believe in anyone trying to make it.