On the passing of Colombian vallenato legend, Diomedes Diaz

Diomedes Diaz
Diomedes Diaz

I have an interesting relationship with Colombian vallenato music in that my Colombian-music loving self didn’t always love it. I recall my cousin Maria asking me why I didn’t love it at and me saying “it’s old people music.” Ha! (We joke now that she was — and still is– a romantic, and I was [and still am] a cynical cold hearted kid. Go figure.)

I often heard vallenato at parties growing up because it is somewhat of a somber music, in which the ‘grownups’ sat around, reminisced about their homeland, and had shots of aguardiente. At home, my dad preferred to play salsa and cumbia as he was always more of an upbeat music fan (like me!).

Like my father, I preferred to listen to salsa and cumbia, and later champeta, but I gained an appreciation for vallenato as a young adult when I really started paying attention to the lyrics. So sentimental!

The music has its roots in Colombia’s pastures of Valledupar.

This form of music originated from farmers who, keeping a tradition of Spanish minstrels (Juglares in Spanish), mixed also with the West African-inherited tradition of griots (African version of juglar), who used to travel through the region with their cattle in search of pastures or to sell them in cattle fairs. Because they traveled from town to town and the region lacked rapid communications, these farmers served as bearers of news for families living in other towns or villages. Their only form of entertainment during these trips was singing and playing guitars or indigenous gaita flutes, known as kuisis in the Kogi language, and their form of transmitting their news was by singing their messages. (Source.)

Known as “el cacique (native chief),” Diaz was regarded as one of the best singer-songwriters of vallenato. But he didn’t come without controversy:

Diaz led a tempestuous life, serving time in jail over the death of a fan at a party in his home. He often showed up late to concerts or not at all, something his fans put down to his addiction to drugs and alcohol.

In 1997, at the height of his career and shortly before the launch of his album Mi Biografia (My Biography), a fan and friend of Diaz, Doris Adriana Nino, was found dead by the side of a highway in Tunja province. Forensic experts at first said that she had died of a heart attack following a drug overdose at a party hosted by Diaz, but a later forensic report suggested she had been suffocated.

After a lengthy trial, Diaz was sentenced to 12 years in jail for homicide, a sentence which was later reduced to six years.

Diaz, who had been put under house arrest, went on the run when he was due to be transferred to jail, allegedly hiding away in an area controlled by the infamous paramilitary leader known as Jorge 40. He handed himself in to the authorities in 2002 and, after having his sentence further reduced, was released in 2004. (Source.)

Much like when tropical music king Joe Arroyo died in 2011, Colombians have taken to the streets to pay homage to Diaz. And Valledupar’s mayor has declared four days of mourning.

Radio stations are playing songs from his vast discography nonstop.

There are several favorites of Diaz I love, but I’ll leave you with “Mensaje de Navidad” since it’s appropriate for the Christmas season:

Again, the lyrics are somber, but true, as the holidays aren’t always “joyous” if one is away from loved ones.

Unos dicen: Que buena las navidades
Es la época más linda de los años
Pero hay otros que no quieren acordarse
De la fiesta de Año Nuevo y aguinaldo
Pero hay otros que no quieren acordarse
De la fiesta de Año Nuevo y aguinaldo

(Source: see rest of lyrics here.)

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