Colombia’s Magín Díaz recognized with Lifetime Award for Culture

At age 95, the singer and songwriter from Gamero, Bolívar, known as Luis Magín Díaz, – finally got the recognition he deserves, when the Ministry of Culture awarded him last month the country’s highest honor for contribution to culture: the Vida y Obra prize.

The composer of one of Colombia’s most poignant love songs “Rosa, qué linda eres” was born 30 December 1922 in a hamlet populated by the descendants of former slaves who managed escaped their Spanish colonial oppressors.

According to the illustrious jury, Magín Díaz’s musical legacy is an “invaluable and universal contribution to the cultural heritage of the nation, and expression of the ethnic diversity of populations that from the regions enrich the musical identity of Colombia.”

The son of subsistence farmers, Magín Díaz never attended to school, nor learned to read nor write. But at age 15, after trying to catch the attention of a white girl and daughter of a plantation owner, Magín composed the words to his “Rosa”, and which would go on to become an anthem to unrequited love and hymn to the injustice of racial divides. The Rosa of lore is very real, “the most beautiful woman I ever laid eyes on,” said Magín in an exclusive interview with The City Paper.

Despite a fragile and fleeting mind, when we sat down with Magín in a hotel room in Bogotá before preforming at the Colón Theatre in 2016 in a tribute concert for Colombia’s Afro Colombian musicians. Magín recalled his childhood as a “black as burned” boy and the impossibility of romance given the deep racial codes of the coast. But he sang for his “Rosa”, nonetheless.

“Rosa” became an obligatory revenge song played at parrandas – informal street gatherings and parties. Never written down as a formal work, nor recorded in a studio until decades later, Magín’s copyright to “Rosa” was denied him, and many roving troubadours of cumbia and bullerengue ended up claiming this melody as theirs.

Blessed with a musical foundation laid by down his mother, a fine tuned ear, and passion for storytelling, Magín, devoted himself to song and dance whenever he wasn’t working as a laborer or farmer. In the 1970s, the composer headed to Caracas, Venezuela, to work on a construction site and a cousin Irene Martínez, traveled to Medellín to meet with a lawyer and establish the legal protection of the song. According to Magín “he couldn’t be found” so Martínez put her name to a song that was later recorded by Carlos Vives on a Grammy winning album, La Tierra del Olvido (The Forgotten Land) and Toto La Momposina, among many others.

Misfortune sadly followed Magín and more than a dozen of his songs almost faced obscurity were it not for a social media campaign to help the impoverished musician.

After decades of legal disputes that he could not afford living on a monthly stipend of $300,000 pesos a month, artists rallied to his cause, and in 2015, Magín regained creative ownership of the melody that represents beauty and loss. In 2015, Magín recorded the album Magín Díaz y el Sexteto Gameranocon which put him back in the limelight. This year, the artist released his first solo album, El Orisha de la Rosa.

Accompanying the musician in receiving this prestigious award, is the outstanding playwright and theater director Ricardo Camacho. Both were chosen among 63 candidates.