Through Facebook I was informed that El Cacique de la Junta better known as Diomedes Díaz, one of Colombia’s biggest names in music, passed away Sunday Dec. 22 at the age of 56. He was the Frank Sinatra of the vallenato music genre (the native folklore music of Colombia). As a Colombian and fan of his music I was saddened, and thought this news only pertained to my fellow Colombians, I was wrong.
Searching his name online I immediately saw heavy-weight English-language publications that reported on the singer’s death. ABC News and The Washington Post added a story from The Associated Press on their websites; BBC News World did an original piece highlighting events in his career; and Billboard did a detailed account of his life and musical journey.
These articles hint that there is something worth saying and learning about the popular vallenatero. Let’s delve into who he was and why non-Colombian audiences should begin to explore his musical legacy.
Diomedes de Jesús Díaz Maestre was a singer, song-writer, and composer of Vallenato who, according to El Universal, recorded 350 songs, 35 albums and sold over 15 million copies in the 37 years of his career. His is a story of rags to riches that is unique and inspiring, but at the same time vexing.
Born in a farm in La Junta, south of the Guajira region of Colombia, Diomedes and his family were very poor, but the singer was driven from the start. According to El Universal, Alberto Salcedo Ramos – renowned Colombian journalist – tells that as a child he worked as a scarecrow and to beat boredom in the large lonely fields he started singing and would even exchange songs for coffee.
Soon after, he began to perform at local parties and then moved to Valledupar – home of Vallenato – where he got a job as a bike messenger for radio station Guatapurí through which he got the opportunity to record “Cariñito de mi Vida,” song which in 1975 set his path to stardom.
According to Billboard, once the 80s came around Díaz became the top-selling artist in Colombia, releasing an album on his birthday every year. He became the country’s equivalent of a rock star. He had a poetic ease that helped to further escalate the genre from farmer’s music to be international recognized, especially in Venezuela. At the same time heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol, he frequently canceled concerts which many times caused violent upheavals by fans. In 1997 he was also tried for the murder of Doris Adriana Niño, A 22-year-old friend and fan, who after attending a party at Díaz’s apartment was found dead days later.
But even as controversy continued throughout his career, his popularity never ceased and that is all due to his powerful music which helped him obtain Gold, Platinum and Multi-Platinum certifications and a Latin Grammy in 2010.
Whether people loved or hated Díaz, there is no denying that he left a historic imprint on music in Colombia and internationally. In Celebration of his career, here are five of his songs that will leave you begging for more.
“Cariñito de mi Vida”
He implores a lover to return his passionate love.
“Que Hubo Linda”
He tells a girl he is courting that he will be faithful. Highly unlikely as he had a total of 28 (recognized) kids with various women.
“Mi Primera Cana”
He says good-bye to his youth
Song dedicated to one of his sons in which he remembers his own relationship with his father.
“Las Cuatro Fiestas”
One of his more upbeat songs in celebration of Christmas.