Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Venezuela Bids Adios to A Much Loved Folk Legend
Venezuela's most famous and best loved folk musician Simon Diaz, known affectionately by his fans as Tio Simon (Uncle Simon), has died aged 85. The news of his death sparked a huge outpouring of support for his life and work on the social networking site Twitter from Venezuelans, folk music fans, and his fellow musicians.
His daughter Betsimar Díaz made the announcement on 19 February, tweeting. “Tearfully I announce to the country that my beloved father passed away this morning, in peace”..He had been suffering for some years from Alzheimer's Disease.
Over a long career he wrote over 200 songs, but his most famous composition is "Caballo Viejo", which became a huge international hit for the Franco-Spanish group the Gipsy Kings after they renamed it "Bamboleo".
From the 1970s to the 1990s he hosted a number of children's TV shows that promoted Venezuelan folk traditions, humour and songs, something which won him a special place in the hearts of those Venezuelans who grew up with him.
Born on the 8 August 1928 in Barbacoas and baptized Simón Narciso Díaz Márquez, he is famous for his renditions of folk songs known collectively as joropo or música criolla from the area known as Los Llanos, a vast swathe of seasonally-flooded cattle country that stretches from Venezuela into Colombia.
Considered a national treasure, over a career spanning more than 60 years he almost single-handedly rescued for future generations the traditional working songs of Los Llanos. His great achievement was to take these simple songs called tonadas and reinterpret them with spare arrangements that highlight the sometimes haunting vocals, and bring to life the daily chores of the cattle ranch.
He was also known for his wicked sense of humour and made more than one tongue-in-cheek song about life on the Llanos, like "El Peine".
So influential has Simon Diaz been on Venezuelan folk music that tonadas like "Tonada de Luna Llena", "La Vaca Mariposa", and "Luna de Margarita" have been recorded by a host of singers across Latin America and Spain, including Mercedes Sosa, Caetano Veloso, Joan Manuel Serrat, Gilberto Santa Rosa and contemporary indie musicians like Devendra Banhart and Natalia Lafourcade.
A 2007 album called simply "Simon: Remixes" brought together Venezuelan electronica groups like Babylon Motorhome, Masseratti 2 lts. Todosantos and Panasuyo interested in reinterpreting songs like "Mi Querencia", "La Tonada del Cabrestero" and "Arbolito Sabanero" for a new generation.
In 2008, Tio Simon was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Latin Grammys after a campaign by a group called "Venezuelans in Hollywood", supported by actors such as "The Mummy" actress Patricia Velasquez, and musicians such as Oscar D'Leon, Los Amigos Invisibles, Ricardo Montaner, Jose Luis Rodriguez ("El Puma") and the Gipsy Kings.
Click here for a video of "Caballo Viejo"
Click here for a video of "Angustia" by Simon Diaz remixed by Babylon Motorhome
Click here for a video of "La Tonada del Cabrestero"
Click here for a video of "Alma Llanera"