I GET IT. I know. You hate vallenato. You’ve seen a music video with a guy in pastel blue trousers and an orange polo shirt, wearing sunglasses and playing an accordion and you thought to yourself, “What the hell is this?” He’s smiling at the camera like, “I’m the shit, right?” and you’re thinking, “Who is this asshole wearing pastel trousers, looking like Don Johnson playing accordion?”
I understand you, and I want to reassure you that when I say a vallenato legend has died, I’m not talking about that kind of vallenato. Enrique Diaz Tovar was a man amongst men; a real king.
Aged 69, Diaz had been moved from his home town of Planeta Rica in the coastal region of Cordoba to hospital in Montería. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer and spent several days in intensive care before heart complications ended his life on September 18.
A descendent of the palanqueros, former African slaves who formed their own free territories on the Atlantic coast, Enrique Diaz Tovar was born in the swamps of the Bolívar region in a town called Maria la Baja. Diaz was one of the old juglares of vallenato, helping to popularize the genre by travelling along the coast from town to town, playing concerts and throwing parties at every stop. He was crowned the “Accordion King of the Savanna” in the city of Sincelejo in 1986, which is a title I personally envy.
Nicknamed ‘The Tiger of Maria la Baja’ and always sporting an awesome moustache and the classic costeño sombrero vueltiao, Diaz’s most popular hits include “El Rio Cují” and “Rancho Triste”. His most famous song, “La Caja Negra”, is perhaps most appropriate for an obituary. The song’s title is a reference to a coffin, and in the song he sings about enjoying life, and why you shouldn’t ever tell someone to stop drinking. In the days since his death, he has undoubtedly already killed several bottles of whiskey and is partying it up at the great parranda that is waiting for him up in the sky.
By Greg Haugan