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Salsa’s Oscar D’León, in Tampa Sunday, laments conditions in Venezuela

By Juan Carlos Chavez, CENTRO Tampa
Oscar D'Leon has a number of gold records to his credit and has recorded more than 60 albums, including El Sonero del Mundo, produced by the Cuban artist Willy Chirino. [Associated Press]

TAMPA — With his particular music and style, Oscar D’León, the most recognized contemporary salsa artist in Venezuela, has invigorated the genre without losing its original essence.

D’León will perform on Sunday (Nov. 5) at Al Lopez Park during the Conga Caliente festival, created in 2004 as a one-time event but now drawing some 40,000 people a year.

"It’s always a pleasure to play in Tampa," said D’León, 74, known by several nicknames, including "The Pharaoh of Salsa."

Each moniker has its own story.

"I keep all the appellatives because they come for some reason from the public, from the fans who see in me the appellative that they believe I relate to," D’León said. "With great affection, I accept every one."

D’León recently performed a concert in Lima, Peru, to mark the 45th year of a career that emerged from a Venezuela much different than today’s.

"I would have many things to say as a Venezuelan, I have many things to disagree with, but I have to keep quiet. I suffer and I plead for Venezuela to be what it once was, because my brothers are dispersed around the world."

D’León acknowledged the economic and social deterioration of his country, where the ruling socialist party is at odds with branches of its own government and protesters in the streets. Few options or opportunities remain for the nation’s people, he said.

"Today, my country is practically alone because a lot of people are looking for a way to live better. But what we need is for everything to change, for favorable winds to return it to the country that we had."

D’León said he doesn’t express his political views publicly.

A few years ago, he served as an ambassador for Operation Smile, a worldwide medical charity helping children who need reconstructive surgery. But he had to step away even from this, he said, because of divisiveness in his homeland.

"I’m no longer playing the role I did a while ago because they took things with political ideas, so I had to retire. I do not like to mix my profession with politics."

He prefers to talk about the warm family memories of his youth. "There was poverty in my family, not extreme, but there was poverty, although life was not difficult. I was happy."

D’León has a number of gold records to his credit and has recorded more than 60 albums, including El Sonero del Mundo, produced by the Cuban artist Willy Chirino, who was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1997.

D’León said the music industry today demands working with social media and alternative platforms for sales.

"You have to adapt to it and you have to be in the current because, if not, you’re out of it all," he said.

Contact Juan Carlos Chávez at [email protected]