“Y cómo está la gente de Chicago?” “And how are people in Chicago doing?” That’s how Joaquín Díaz starts our conversation on the phone, speaking from his home in Montreal. I am curious as to how a musician from the Dominican Republic came to reside in that much colder norther land: “It was love! Love hooked me! She threw that fish line and hooked me good!”, he laughs, explaining that he went to Canada on tour, and met his wife and then settled there.
Canada is a long, long way from his birthplace San Pedro de Macorís, on the eastern side of the island. And Díaz also chose a different path from what his hometown is known for: “It’s a baseball player’s town. Sammy Sosa and Alfonso Soriano and many of the best ball players hail from San Pedro de Macorís,” he comments proudly. However, there was never any question that music and not sports was his destiny. He describes how life with his dad, a musician who played the Cuban guitar, had him playing the accordion at 9 years of age. Basically self-taught, Díaz plays a little bachata, a lot of merengue, and he is also ver fond of mangulina dance beats, which combine European-based rhythms like the ‘chotis’ (from the Bohemian Schottische dance) and the syncopated rhythms of the Africans brought to the island to work in the sugar cane fields. These are all played on accordions that came to the Dominican Republic when traded by merchant marines, explains Díaz, calling this instrument that became so popular throughout the Americas a “little organ.”
Díaz, a master accordion player, performs with several instruments (I saw him at last year’s World Music Expo in Copenhagen, where even the cold Danish Fall could not keep him from having us heat up on the dance floor) and he trades back and forth between bigger and smaller versions. But he prefers to use the smaller accordion, he clarifies: “Dominican music, you have to really attack it! And that’s easier to do with the little, lighter, two-row accordion.”
Although Díaz plays both original and classic Dominican tunes, he is beginning to explore fusing his more traditional sounds with jazz, but never forgetting the roots, he declares “because, the folkloric sounds give it a lot of caché.” But no matter where his fusions take him, Díaz exclaims with a hearty laugh: “It´s about making people happy! That’s what we have to share! No matter how poor we are, no matter what our circumstances, we are a happy people – that’s the Caribbean spirit – Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans – that’s just the way we are!”