If you’ve heard “Por El Norte Por El Sur,” “Espíritu Maligno,” or “Me Amarás,” then you’re familiar with Magín Díaz’s work. The 94-year-old’s not a household name, but in the last 80+ years, he’s shaped Colombian music. Drawing from the sounds of the coast, Díaz – who grew up near Palenque de San Basilio, the first town in the Americas settled by escaped slaves – composed explicitly Afro-Colombian music. Instead of gaining recognition for his emblematic songs, he’s faced a life full of hardships.
“I was unlucky with music and I still am,” Díaz said in an AJ+ video profile. “I should’ve had a bit of money, a beautiful farm, a donkey.” Growing up in Gamero, Magín planted rice, beans, and yuca to help feed his family from a young age. He never attended school, so he didn’t learn how to read and write, according to The City Paper. Unfortunately, he never registered his songs, either.
But his music made it to the masses, with white Colombian artists becoming the face of bullerengue – a percussion-based style that can be traced back to West Africa. The music industry turned its nose at costeño music, unless it was performed by a white artist.
“He gave everything to his music and to Colombian music,” Daniel Bustos, who’s working on an album with Díaz, said. “Famous artists then recorded his songs, which became popular. The artists became cultural ambassadors for Colombia in the world. He never got credit for the songs, because no one knew he’d compose them.”
Now in his 90s, Magín finally has his turn in the spotlight. In 2017, he’ll release Orisha de la Rosa, his first solo album. Getting cosigns from collaborators Carlos Vives and Celso Piña, he’s getting the praise he deserves. And it’s hard not to root for him. For someone who has every right to feel bitter and resentful, Magín just cares about the music. “I dream with music,” he said. “It makes me cry when I sing.”
Check out the AJ+ video below, and prepare to feel all the feels: