Compositions. More that just songs, his life encompasses a work of art in which he writes the script, plays the music, recites the poetry and does the acting
TULIO CASAL PATIÑO-EL UNIVERSAL
To satisfy her own cravings and prevent her child from being born hungry, she started a fire, placing her belly near it. Maybe the heat caused whatever was in there to find its way out. "After sliding down one for her legs, I walked straight out, with my umbilical cord wrapped around my left hand.
When my mother saw me, she yelled: 'Boy! Where are you going dragging that cord around?'
-'Me? Outside', I replied.
-'What for?', she asked.
-'To round up a cow'.
-'But, what for?'
-'To kill it'.
-'But, what for?'
-'To make good use of that fire and eat some cachapa with grilled beef'".
That's how Simón Narciso Díaz Márquez was born on August 28th, 1928 in Barbacoas, Aragua State (formerly Guárico). At least, that's his side of the story. Closing in on 80 years old, he has written over 200 songs and recorded 70 albums, making his legacy one of the most important for Venezuelan and Latin American music.
As the oldest of seven brothers, he was the father figure after Juan, his father, passed away when Simón was only 12. "I got to play one of the most beautiful roles for Venezuelan boys: the big brother", remembers Díaz. His brother Joselo complements by saying that Simón "was always a role model for us".
"He was like a father to his brothers, but like a big brother to us, his own children. We always enjoyed sharing his games, stories and poetry with him. The only thing that he was really strict about was school. My mother had to handle the difficult stuff", says Bettsimar, the second of his three children, along with Simón Jr. and Juan Bautista.
Singer, songwriter, actor, comedian, bank collector, boxer, poet, newspaper boy, salesman of empanadas and other homemade treats, he took the music of the Venezuelan plains, inspired by the sounds of farming chores, to audiences all over the world. Renowned international artists, including Caetano Veloso, Iván Lins, Joan Manuel Serrat, Plácido Domingo, Cheo Feliciano and Gilberto Santa Rosa, have covered his music.
In spite of the resounding international success of the author of Caballo Viejo, he pays little attention to all the fanfare. One of the possible reasons for that is explained by Betty, his wife. She recalls how, during one of Simón's tours in Paris, he was homesick or, better yet, "farmsick". In fact, he even made an early return. "Do you know where he was the following day? Sitting under one of the farm's mango trees!"
Serrat explains that Díaz's music is "deeply provincial, a trait making its appeal broadly international", since "the only people in the world who understand one another with no problem whatsoever are from provinces".
In Venezuela, he starred in five movies, hosted two radio shows and at least twelve TV programs, including three highly rated shows: La Quinta de Simón (Simón's Country House), Reina por un día (Queen for a Day) and Contesta por Tío Simón (Uncle Simón Answers).
Today, his songs lead lives of their own, a notion that makes one of his wishes comes true: for his music to be anonymous. "That would be a way to give back to the people something that was born from the people", he confessed to his daughter.
"A genius of Latin American music" says jazz artist Iván Lins. Simón can look back at what he has sown and find an answer: "These farmlands are mine."
Translated by Félix Rojas
PERSPECTIVES In the first five months of 2015, the Venezuelan government has referred, knowingly or unwittingly, to the use of the US dollar as a benchmark in the domestic market.