"Sometimes we give up right before making it," says Panamanian star Sech. "We have to keep fighting till the end. Sometimes we also feel like because we are a certain age we can't achieve something — that's a lie. It's never too late."
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Credit: CHICA

Panama or Puerto Rico? Though explained on a yearly basis, the true location of reggaeton's birthplace is a never-ending debate on social media, especially now that the genre is receiving the most exposure in its entire history. Just days before Sech celebrated his peak at number one on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart, he spoke to People CHICA and broke it down for the doubters. “Reggae en Español started in Panama, Puerto Rico commercialized it and Dominicans created their own [subgenres],” he explains. However, he is quick to note that the debate shouldn't be the focus. ”In the end, we all worked towards one goal — for urbano to be what it is today.”

As CHICA predicted in May, “Otro Trago” is a summer favorite, and Sech has all eyes on him. The 25-year-old is the first Panamanian to top the chart since El Chombo, whose 1998 track “Dame Tu Cosita” became a viral hit last year. The triumphant joy felt by the singer is layered under the understanding that not many Panamanians have shared that same happiness. For Sech, this current moment in his life is a fantasy, and he expresses that fantasy both musically and visually on his new album Sueños, released in April. The album's aesthetic and cover art is inspired by Apollo 13. “It was a dream to go to the moon,” he explains, comparing his rapid success to the mission. “Always chase your dreams, don't let anyone tell you that it's not possible. Sometimes we give up right before making it. We have to keep fighting till the end. Sometimes we also feel like because we are a certain age we can't achieve something — that's a lie. It's never too late.”

Born Carlos Isaías Morales Williams, the Río Abajo native's rise to fame may seem like it happened overnight, but his musical knowledge and diligent hard work shaped him into the rising urbano star he is now. He began singing in his church's choir and grew up in a family of music enthusiasts. His mother was a pastor and singer who influenced him to join the parish band. “I played the piano, drums and bass guitar, but I've always loved urbano,” he says. Citing his influences as jazz, blues, classical and reggae en Español pioneers like Nando Boom and El General, his sound incorporates enough variety to set him apart from many other composers.

His blow-up track “Miss Lonely” represents all of those influences, and received recognition outside Panama in places like Colombia. The song scored him a contract with Rich Music and created a friendship and working relationship with Panamanian DJ and producer Dimelo Flow. Already popular in Panama as a producer and for his dancehall rhythms, Sech then transitioned to the more commercial sound we hear today. “Dimelo Flow sent me ‘Que Mas Pues,' which was dancehall, but he sent it on a reggaeton beat. I said, ‘Flow, I don't like it at all.' I had my own flow.” Regardless, Sech listened to his friend and put the track out along with Justin Quiles. The remix, which features Lenny Tavarez, Maluma, Farruko, Nicky Jam and Dalex has since garnered 138 million views on YouTube.

With any major following comes great responsibility, and Sech understands that. ”Since me, more artists have been discovered in [Panama],” he says. Understanding that el genero urbano in Latin America was birthed in el barrio, he is also reclaiming a space in the industry for Panama. “I feel like I have a lot of responsibility [to represent] in that aspect,” he says. “I think it gives a lot of people hope.” And it does — this is best expressed in the intro song to Sueños, which includes a recording of his Panamanian colleague BCA saying, “When someone like you makes it, we all make it.”

As a gatekeeper, he plans to take his responsibility seriously and help other artists in Panama. Though this is just the beginning of his quick rise to fame, he is no one-hit wonder, and plans to make a mark. “I hope to one day become an icon in music — make movies and everything.”