When I arrived in Carora, Venezuela, in 2000, Alirio Díaz accompanied me to the local radio station, a short walk from his house in the old town centre. Entrance doors give directly onto the kerbs, which are raised some three feet above the level of the cobbled streets. Men, women and children stood at the doorways banging saucepans with cooking utensils in a steady rhythm. Such was the din that we were not able to converse. I thought this was a local greeting custom reserved for special occasions and grand old men such as Alirio Díaz. I was wrong of course, but more of this anon.
Alirio Díaz, everywhere respected and admired for his playing, is also loved and cherished as few other artists. Nowhere is this more evident than in Carora where he is greeted with quiet but deeply-felt affection as he strolls through its picturesque streets. When he celebrated his 80th birthday in nearby Barquisimeto the entire audience stood at the end and sang "Happy Birthday", and as one, continued to sing as they mobbed him backstage. He is loved for his humour, warmth and common touch. Formality and distance are not his style.
On one occasion, after a concert in Táchira, Venezuela, he was not able to gain access to his place of residence late at night, so overnight accommodation was hastily arranged elsewhere. The next morning we had breakfast together in a very ordinary café, with him still dressed in concert suit and bright red bow-tie. He was completely at ease – which brings me back to the banging saucepans of Carora. They turned out to be a political protest and nothing to do with a personal greeting to the maestro, but such was his measured pace and elegant greeting to all and sundry that I believed the demonstration was for our benefit. The saucepan bashers had become his audience, and the streets his stage.
Now there´s a showman for you.