Luis Dias (1952-2009)

[Photo by Rafael de los Santos]

Singer/songwriter/guitarist, musical anthropologist, and one of rock and roll's pioneering forces in the Dominican Republic, Luis Dias passed away from a heart attack and other health-related complications on the morning of Dec. 8th, in Santo Domingo.

Nicknamed "El Terror" due to his fiery spirit and decidedly mainstream-shunning, anti-establishment stance, Dias was, nonetheless, a towering influence on Dominican popular music, and one of his country's most often-covered contemporary songwriters. Active since 1968, Dias started making music in his teens, leading him in the early '70s to join Convite, a celebrated group dedicated to rediscovering long lost native musical idioms, of which he was a tireless researcher and supporter all his life.

This was coupled with an expansive knowledge of rock and jazz, to boot: in an early '90s interview with us, he named Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix as formative influences on his playing and praised Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, while speaking glowingly of The Clash, and commending then-current acts Soundgarden and Nirvana on their contributions. As for his avowed love of jazz, suffice to say, we once witnessed Dias and fellow guitarist Juan Francisco Ordoñez duet on a Charlie Parker tune and rip thru it like nobody's business.

But it is the seminal Transporte Urbano—a band whose mission statement was, as Dias himself described it, "to subvert traditional Dominican music until it becomes rock", throwing in palo, gá-gá, merengue, and bachata, among others, with elements of rock music ranging from rockabilly to metal—that influenced a generation of Dominican musicians, including Juan Luis Guerra, once one of Dias' numerous sidemen. Popularly referred to as "El Transporte" by its fans, the band was formed in the mid '80s, but despite periods of inactivity, had maintained a loyal and rabid following for a quarter of a century.

In 2004 Dias was honored by the Dominican government as a “cultural asset”; most recently, Dias was featured on the soundtrack of the Ed Norton-Colin Farrell police drama Pride and Glory, and won a settlement stemming from alleged copyright infringement between Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" and his own "Carnaval (Baila en la Calle)", which, in a popular cover version by Fernando Villalona, has been the unofficial theme song to Dominican carnival celebrations since 1984.

Dias was 57 years old.