Music to her ears

Bri­anna Panama, 11, prac­tices in her Somer­ton home while pre­par­ing for her per­form­ance as a fi­nal­ist for the New Jer­sey Net­work’s ‘His­pan­ic Youth Show­case.’ JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

Bri­anna Panama is em­bra­cing her her­it­age and fol­low­ing her dreams sim­ul­tan­eously. The Somer­ton res­id­ent per­forms with her dad and broth­er in their band, La Fa­mil­ia Panama.

Somer­ton res­id­ent Bri­anna Panama wants to learn how to play gui­tar. She prob­ably will. Why not?

“She can play any­thing,” said Ted Panama Jr., her very proud fath­er.

She already is an ac­com­plished vi­ol­in­ist and per­cus­sion­ist who has per­formed at the Mann Mu­sic Cen­ter.

Not bad for an 11-year-old who just picked up the vi­ol­in for the first time in 2008.

“Panama” is Bri­anna’s stage name. Well, it’s her fam­ily’s stage name. Her fath­er, Ted Panama Jr., is the second gen­er­a­tion of a fam­ily that has been part of Phil­adelphia’s mu­sic scene since the 1960s. Ted Panama Sr. and his wife, Candy, were Lat­in mu­sic pi­on­eers, said Ted Jr., who was per­form­ing with mu­sic le­gend Tito Puente when he was 13.

Now, Bri­anna Dormoi — the young­ster’s sur­name off the stage — and her 21-year-broth­er Ad­ri­an join their dad in per­form­ances as La Fa­mil­ia Panama.

Ted and Ad­ri­an are per­cus­sion­ists. They play tim­bales. Bri­anna began play­ing those drums just last year.

“I’ve nev­er seen a vi­ol­in play­er put it down and play drums,” Ted Panama said.

In mid-May, La Fa­mil­ia Panama played with eight oth­er mu­si­cians at the Mann Mu­sic Cen­ter in front of a crowd of more than 400, Ted Panama said. Bri­anna did two songs, she said, Bruno Mars’ Gren­ade and The Lazy Song.

It was her fifth live per­form­ance.

Was she nervous? A little, she said dur­ing an in­ter­view last week in her Re­gina Street home. Some­where in the second half of her first song, she re­laxed and had fun.


The word doesn’t seem to fit the young mu­si­cian. Bri­anna is busy with mu­sic les­sons, re­cord­ing ses­sions, per­form­ances and at­tend­ing classes at St. Cecil­ia’s Ele­ment­ary School in Fox Chase. When does she re­lax?

She gets the time to be a kid, her fath­er said.

She likes fig­ure skat­ing, she said.

“She’s good,” her fath­er said, but he ad­ded that his daugh­ter is not look­ing for a ca­reer as a skater.

Like any oth­er kid, Bri­anna en­joys play­ing with her friends. Des­pite the mu­sic­al ac­com­plish­ments, prac­tices and the live per­form­ances, Bri­anna comes off, at times, as very shy.

“We’re work­ing on that,” her fath­er said.

She is look­ing for suc­cess, and she works hard. At 9, she was in her first “All-City Ele­ment­ary Con­cert,” which in­cluded the best young mu­si­cians in the pub­lic school sys­tem. She re­peated that the next year, he said.

Bri­anna knew what she wanted.

“I want to be fam­ous,” she told the Span­ish-lan­guage news­pa­per Al Dia in 2009. “I want to have body­guards and ride in a lim­ousine.”

A little in­side hu­mor, her fath­er said. He has a limo com­pany, and a friend provides se­cur­ity.

On that road to suc­cess, Bri­anna par­ti­cip­ated in a May 27 tal­ent show­case at NJN, New Jer­sey’s pub­lic tele­vi­sion net­work — and she won.

The show, the NJN His­pan­ic Youth Show­case, was set up to se­lect young tal­ent for an up­com­ing tele­vi­sion spe­cial on His­pan­ic artists.

Bri­anna won as 2011 In­stru­ment­al Cham­pi­on and earned the show’s Tito Puente Schol­ar­ship Award. 

She per­formed Pa­na­menia Linda Bri­anna, an ar­range­ment cre­ated for her.

“She was fant­ast­ic,” said Wil­lie Sanc­hez, who pro­duced the sold-out show at the New Jer­sey Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter in Ne­wark.

Sanc­hez said NJN will air the show at 5 p.m. on June 25 and rebroad­cast it at noon the next day. 

Bri­anna also is work­ing on a re­cord­ing pro­ject and hopes to work with Me­nique, a Panamani­an artist, her fath­er said.

The sixth-grader will change schools in the fall to at­tend the CCA Baldi Middle School on Ver­ree Road. She is look­ing for­ward to go­ing to the school be­cause of its mu­sic pro­gram.

“I like Baldi,” she said. “You get to wear whatever you want.”

So who is this 11-year-old mu­si­cian’s fa­vor­ite per­former?

No sur­prise there.

“Justin Bieber!” she said. ••

There are a couple of Bri­anna Panama clips on You­Tube:­ and­­kA

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