Hugo Díaz

Real name: Díaz, Víctor Hugo
Harmonica player and composer
(10 August 1927 - 23 October 1977)
Place of birth:
Santiago del Estero (Santiago del Estero) Argentina
Néstor Pinsón

e grew up listening the folk music of his town. He was still a kid when he confessed that his greatest pleasure would be the possibility of watching a whole orchestra playing with the sound of all the instruments. So, he was knowing them one by one to such an extent that he dared to play several of them. But his devotion was for the harmonica. At age nine he made his debut as soloist on a radio station of his province, Santiago del Estero.

With the passing of time he turned out to be an extraordinary artist with a huge talent that rose to unprecedented levels the chosen instrument. He was the creator of an Argentine way of playing the harmonica with his outstanding works either as player or as composer. He was a player with features of a genius, precisely, with an instrument regarded as of an inferior level, a small musical device that people did not understand or found it difficult to accept. It was regarded as a toy for kids intruding into the music of adults. And his quality as rare bird grew deeper when he dared to play tango.

The dimension of his musical knowledge was such that he easily traveled along from Vivaldi to Jimi Hendrix, from Ángel Villoldo to Horacio Salgán. Somebody said that if a musician had the intention of becoming a harmonica player he had to listen to Toots Thielemans and Hugo Díaz.

He went to Buenos Aires in 1944 together with his friend Domingo Cura (1929-2004). The latter is regarded as the most important percussionist (bombisto) in the history of our national folk music. He later became his brother-in-law because he married his sister, Victoria Cura, a singer with a beautiful voice. In the capital city he was hired by a jazz musician and leader of all-rhythm orchestras, Juan Carlos Barbará, who presented him as soloist for a season at the Confitería Hurlingham.

In 1946, he joined the Chacay Manta folk group which appeared to a good acclaim even though this genre had not yet had a wide acceptance in the capital city but it became a boom a decade later.

The renowned Paraguayan harpist Félix Pérez Cardozo, with whom he became friendly linked, opened for him several doors that allowed him to enter the recording studios after playing many gigs in a large number of folk music venues.

In the early fifties he put together a trio along with the fellow harmonica player Luis Saltos and the guitarist Norberto Pereyra. His wife Victoria was included as vocalist. The customary routine was appearing on radio stations, night venues and making tours of nearby cities. Thereafter they toured throughout Latin America and arrived in the United States where they made several appearances which led them to share the bill with Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson.

They did not stop there. They traveled to Europe and, in Germany, they went to the city of Leverkusen where the headquarters of the factory of Hohner music instruments is located. This is the trademark of the harmonicas played by Hugo.

At that place was so great the enthusiasm that his talent produced that his photograph was placed in the room where the consecrated Thielemans and Larry Adler, top figures of the instrument until then, were located. Because of this recognition many opportunities arose, and the most important was: a contract to cut recordings with the orchestra conducted by Waldo de los Ríos in Spain.

Thereafter came his appearances in Japan, in countries of the Middle East, in the cities of Rome and Milano. In the latter city, he played no less than at the Teatro de La Scala, alongside personalities of operatic singing.

His greatest devotion was folk music, a genre for which he recorded around seventy numbers included in five long-playing records. He also recorded jazz pieces and some classical works.

But when he returned to our country it was no longer the same. The echoes of his success had not reached these lands. Except for his followers, what he played was a curiosity. Evidently, people was not ready to recognize the importance of his music, partly, because of the prejudice that the harmonica arose. However, Hugo went on with his work like the humblest of all players. In this period he recorded for the labels Odeon, TK and Disc Jockey.

Tango had a place in his career and his recordings with over 80 renditions. Among these is a standout his release with numbers by Carlos Gardel and, especially, his renderings of “Soledad”, “Volver”, “Cuesta abajo” and “Amores de estudiante” which are really magnificent. On that occasion he was backed up by Roberto Grela, José Colángelo and Omar Murtagh.

In 2007, a documentary entitled A los cuatro vientos, directed by Alberto Larrán, was made to pay homage to him. The film has, unavoidably, numbers of his repertoire as background music —among which his always requested “Zamba del ángel” stands out—, it shows unpublished photographs and brings testimonies of friends and relatives, especially, the ones brought by his daughter, Mavi Díaz, who is the holder of his oeuvre and his memory. She was member of the group, Viudas e Hijas de Roque Enrroll (A pun on words meaning Widows and Daughters of Rock ‘n’ Roll).

He died at a young age when he was only fifty years old of a cirrhosis but his indisputable talent still makes us quiver with a heartfelt feeling when we listen to his recordings.