Panama Reeks of Banana - Artwork: Eva Krusche
When I first arrived in Bavaria (which, it may be of interest to note, I didn’t realise it was Bavaria until I had been living there for around 5 years. I had heard of Bavaria in England, it’s quite famous across the world, although somehow I didn’t realise that it was ‘part’ of Germany and there may be some reasons for that. I had a sense of the culture, beer, brass music, feathers in caps and traditional costume. You may think that’s rather strange, but I knew the place as Bayern and I didn’t realise that Bayern was the Bavarian word for, well, Bavaria.) I spoke only a few words of German, Hallo, auf wiedersehen and the numbers one to ten. And I thought it might be a good idea to finally try and learn a foreign language as the French I learnt at school was pretty non-existent. The environment for learning foreign languages in my school was pretty poor and probably had something to do with most of my peers holding the view that if they would never visit Birmingham, (the nearest big City 15km away) what was the point of learning a language from another country?
My first lessons were giving by a very kind man living in Feldafing where I was staying and he volunteered once a week, free of charge to give me an introduction to the language. It was a good beginning, but we did get a little stuck around the pronunciation of the umlaut vowels and their related un-umlauted siblings - ä / a, ö / o, and in particular ü / u. The trouble was, we just don’t have these sounds in English and I struggled to even hear the differences - to compound the problem, my accent from the Black Country leaves me with a strange pronunciation of letters like ‘u’ or ‘o’ and in some cases ‘a’ - if anyone has ever heard me say ‘love’, ‘duck’ or ‘grass’ you may know what I mean.
However, following that I bought an audio German language course, which I would listen and work through on my long drives between England and Germany, Munich to the Oberfalz etc.
So, then onto reading.
The first book I tried to read in German was the first Harry Potter book. But quickly I realised my command of the language was far too undeveloped and I soon lay the English and German versions to one side.
Then a friend / band colleague of mine gave me a short illustrated children’s book ‘Post für Tiger’ by Janosch, mainly because my singing in German was appalling and she hoped I would improve with some ‘training’.
Finally I had found my starting level and not only that, I loved the book. It was written, seemingly for children (although I later discovered that Janosch wrote the books ironically) but with some depth within the stories that resonated with my adult self.
I went on to read all of the Janosch Kleiner Bär & Kleiner Tiger Series and was disappointed when I learnt there were no more and no more to come by all accounts.
One of the stories in particular stayed with me like an ohrwurm, perhaps we could call it a gehirrnwurm?
‘Oh Wie Schön ist Panama?’ for me was a lovely, funny and also quite philosophical story where Bär and Tiger find part of an old banana crate from Panama, that smells of bananas. They decide that Panama would be a much better place to live than their comfortable and idyllic house (with a stone chimney) by the river and so set off to emigrate and find a new better life.
After some time they end up going in a huge circle and return to their own house. But they don’t recognise it because since they left it became a little overgrown.
Not realising they’ve made a complete circle they are overjoyed and immediately fall in love with their new house in ‘Panama’.
There are other additions to the lyrics of the song from some of the other books, the taxman taking their apples and the story where Tiger in effect runs off with Kleiner Schweinchen (little pig) and forgets about Bär - something of an affair or betrayal in innocent portrayal.
This song also has a guitar part for the chorus that for me has always posed some difficulties in terms of playing and singing at the same time - as when singing it is difficult to look at what your hands are playing and there were a few jumps in position. To date I have changed the guitar riff / position / fingering and technique at least 7 times since we recorded it - I think now perhaps I have found something that works in terms of sound and playability without looking.
So now I can perform this song with nothing to be fear from.
Panama Reeks Of Banana
We thought that we had everythin’,
And just as we were settlin’
There came a piece of packagin’
That showed the way, it showed our way,
We spent the ev’nin’ discussinin’
Decided upon happenin’
So we packed our bags with pickinin’
And off we go, just one no no,
Stay away from Pigchen’**
Won’t be happy ‘till the kleine schweinchen is left in a hole
Then fried fish, cream, onions wild mushrooms to go!
We need no money, maybe apple ‘though if the tax man he take it all
We have all that we want - with nothing to be fear from
You and me and our world - with a brick chimney
In Panama everything smells of Ba - na - na - na
When we were done a circlin’
We found our precious destinin’
Just a little overgrowinin’
But we don’t care, just be beware,
Stay away from Pigchen’**
I’m here on my own, sweeping the room, you’re into the woods, chasing a pig
in panama everything smells of (bananananananananan, bananananananana)
**Pigchen - it's a mix of German and English. Schweinchen means small pig.
Ian Chapman: vocals, guitars, cornets, synths, ukulele, e-bass
Dine Doneff: drums, vocals double bass
Sandra Hollstein: accordeon, vocals
Martin Habersetzer: tuba
Julian Hesse: trumpet
Just John Jones: vocals
Producer: Dine Doneff
Music, Lyrics & Arrangement: Ian Chapman