May 14, 2009 / 1:04 AM / 11 years ago

Colombian folk music legend Escalona dies

Colombian folk songwriter Rafael Escalona is seen in this undated file photo in Valledupar, Cesar province. Escalona, renowned by his compositions of Vallenato folk music, died on Wednesday in Colombia's capital Bogota after a long illness. REUTERS/Adamis Guerra

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian folk music legend Rafael Escalona, whose songs derived from life in his rural province have inspired modern-day singers, died on Wednesday of heart complications in a Bogota hospital. He was 81.

Born in a small village, Escalona rose to become one of Colombia’s most famous and prolific troubadours. He entertained presidents and started an annual festival that helped attract a new generation of fans to his “vallenato” style of music.

Vallenato, the accordion-and-drum driven coastal music heard everywhere in Colombia from glitzy Bogota bars to shabby public buses, often revolves around the pains of lost love, folk tales and life’s struggles.

“He will go down in history as the maestro of maestros of vallenato,” Escalona’s daughter Margarita told local radio shortly after the composer died.

Escalona’s “The House in the Sky” is one of Colombia’s best-known folk songs.

His life was the inspiration for the soap opera “Escalona” which starred singer Carlos Vives, who later went on to promote his pop-version of the vallenato genre overseas.

The composer, who once served as a diplomat in Panama, was immortalized by his friend and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who made reference to Escalona in his novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”.

Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by Catherine Bremer

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