Victor Hugo DíazFeb 24, 2023
© by Mariano Diaz Campos
In this blog, an instrument that is not usually known in tango music, plays the leading rol: the harmonica. The best known player of the harmonica who dared to record tango, vals and milonga was the legendary musician Victor Hugo Díaz.
Hugo Díaz (1927-1977)
As a young DJ, when I first heard Hugo Díaz' music, I didn't notice it was not a bandoneon. Until my dad pointed it out. I was really amazed how beautiful the music was. It got me into a Piazzolla mood. And that was not a coincidence. Hugo Díaz was first and foremost a jazz musician and Astor Piazzolla also had a jazz background.
Hugo Díaz is a musical legend. He is regarded an important innovator in all aspects with his instrument and his style of playing harmonica is even named as the Argentine style of playing harmonica.
Provoked by a sporting accident, considered by music lovers a divine destiny. This is what five year old Hugo Díaz as a spectator of a football match went through: a flying ball, supposed to be a goal, was kicked wrong and slammed into the face of this poor young boy, blinding him for an entire year.
To sooth the boy in the hospital Hugo Díaz' parents gave him a harmonica. I can almost imagine the other patients of the clinic when the young boy got his new toy. Hugo Díaz played every day with the harmonica and as witnesses said: the boy developed a unique technique at the young age of five. After a year he was operated and got his sight back.
From then on he was dedicated to music in his home town Santiago del Estero. With nine years of age he debuted in 1936 on a local radio show, an event he considered his start of a fabulous career.
By tango dancers he's know for his tango songs. But he was in principle a Argentine Folklore musician and he recorded sixty folklore songs and five folklore records. At the time he departed to Buenos Aires in 1944 Hugo Díaz was mostly known as a Folklore musician. And at that moment the tango was thriving in the capital. Tango had a place in his career and his recordings with over 80 renditions of tangos. Jazz was also his big love and he started to travel abroad.
The talent of Hugo Díaz, just like Astor Piazzolla, was appreciated more in foreign lands. He played with Louis Armstrong en de jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. For those interested, you can listen to Hugo Díaz Summertime (below in this blog). Hugo Díaz performed in Japan, Europe and the United States. He even played in La Scala in Milan. His photograph was added together with Toots Thielemans and Larry Adler at the Hohner Harmonica Factory.
Returning to Bueno Aires in the seventies of the 20th century he noticed that though he was known in Europe, U.S. and Japan, he was anonymous in his home country Argentina. And furthermore, the use of an harmonica was not common in folklore or tango and the instrument was not taken seriously and considered a children's toy.
Hugo Díaz recorded eighty beautiful tango's, vals and milonga's of which El Llorón, Milonga Triste and Milonga para un' armonica are the best known among tango dancers. If you listen to the songs, just pay attention to the retaining of high notes of the harmonica which is not easy to do because you have to take a big amount of breath to be able to play this.
He passed away at a young age when he was only fifty years old of cirrhosis. As tango historian Néstor Pinsón beautifully said: "His indisputable talent still makes us quiver with a heartfelt feeling when we listen to his recordings". In 2007, a documentary titled A los cuatro vientos, directed by Alberto Larrán, was made to pay homage to him.
Listening to Hugo Díaz
Here are some listening songs of Hugo Díaz: Summertime, Zamba del Angel, Milonga Triste, Milonga para un' harmonica, El Llorrón, Soledad, Volver, Amores de Estudiantes.
Mariano Díaz Campos
About the author of this blog, Mariano Diaz Campos
"I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Through my family I have been intimately involved with the culture of Tango all my life. I have been an Argentine Tango dance performer, choreographer and instructor for over 30 years.
My grandfather had a milonga in Tapalqué and my great aunt had a milonga in Buenos Aires during the Golden Era and after.
Both my parents are professional tangodancers. They were solo dancers of the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese and they worked intensively with Antonio Todaro and Suzuki y Pepito Avellaneda. Todaro gave me my first tango shoes.
I profoundly love Tango dancing, music, history and culture. I am a tanguero and a milonguero.
My interests beside tango are history, journalism (graduated journalism in 2001) and mindfulness (certified Mindfulness Based Trainer since 2021)."