As a teenager in the late '70s, Miami-based musician Tomas Diaz was one of many Cuban youths captivated by American rock 'n' roll and what it signified: freedom of expression. Diaz risked his life with every secretive listen and street performance of Jimi Hendrix's music, and his love of a genre that emphasizes rebellion didn't sit well with the paranoid government, eventually landing him in Cuban jail, where he stayed for almost two years. Today, looking back at a busy career that saw him performing with Bruce Springsteen and cofounding Miami legends Spam Allstars, Diaz says he's proud of his younger self's bravery and tenacity.
"I praise him because after all those years and everything that has happened — to get to where I am now — it was all because of perseverance," the singer tells New Times in an interview translated from Spanish. "That is what the Tomas Diaz of years ago did, and that is what today's Tomas Diaz is doing — giving music to the world."
Despite his long career, Diaz is only now on the verge of releasing a debut album as a solo artist this fall.
11:30 p.m. Thursday, August 20, and Thursday, August 27, at Hoy Como Ayer, 2212 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-541-2631; hoycomoayer.us. Admission is free.
"I hadn't made my album before because I was working. It was very important at that moment to work with other people to gain the experience for what I was doing," he says. "It took a while, but the moment came, and I seized it."
The colorful dance single "Suky," accompanied by a star-studded music video, is the album's first track to be released. He describes "Suky" as a magical fantasy, the child we all have inside.
Diaz recently returned to Miami after a promotional tour took him to Puerto Rico, where "Suky" was well received. The locals called him "Suky Man" whenever they recognized him in public places.
"It was something so grand. Hopefully, I can go to Puerto Rico again," he says. "It was incredible — so much love. The people of Puerto Rico opened their doors for me as well as their hearts, and I am so grateful."
For his return to the Magic City, Diaz already has a few shows lined up, including several at the iconic Hoy Como Ayer. The longstanding Miami venue has a special place in Diaz's heart. He played there for more than a decade with Spam Allstars. "That place is magical," he says. "It shaped me." He'll also bring along his own orchestra for his upcoming Miami shows.
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"Miamians have seen me on television, but it's not the same. They're going to see me in person, playing in a live performance, and that's what I want Miami to see: Tomas Diaz and his orchestra."
"I forgive them for the errors they committed," he says. "They didn't understand the youth; they weren't familiar with democracy. Now they need to give that chance to the youth and to the people of the new generation — to open their arms to the entire world."
He's forever thankful to his younger self for pushing forward with his dreams, not allowing government or culture or even iron bars to stop him.
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"I am grateful for that Tomas, and now for this Tomas. Together we'll run the world with our music."
11:30 p.m. Thursday, August 27, at Hoy Como Ayer, 2212 SW 8th Street, Miami; 305-541-2631;
11:30 p.m. Friday, September 4, at Hoy Como Ayer, 2212 SW 8th Street, Miami; 305-541-2631; hoycomoayer.us. Admission is free.