Dario Falzon, known to some as 13th Son is a Sydney based creative with deep roots to Colombia. Adopted by an Australian mother and a Maltese father and raised in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, Dario found a passion for Hip Hop at an early age; writing rhymes was not only his craft but a form of expression. During a hiatus from music, Dario pursued studying Fine Arts as a hobby. Now a skilled landscape painter, Dario continues to captivate audiences in a different medium. Sangre Migrante is grateful to have the opportunity to share a piece of his story.
How did you come to be in Australia?
I was born in Bogota and adopted when I was 5 weeks old. My paperwork indicates that my biological mother gave me up for adoption because of the difficult time she was experiencing at that period in her life. My understanding is that once she found herself pregnant, she had entered the orphanage of FANA and was cared for up until my birth. So it appears her decision to give me up was made very early on.
My Australian parents could not have children so they decided to adopt. They met a couple who had already adopted from FANA and who were helping to facilitate the process for other couples seeking to adopt a child. They went onto a waiting list and were told that they would have a son who would be born at the end of the year. They decided to save all their money and travel around the world for the whole of 1979, concluding their trip with my adoption in Colombia. When they came to pick me up they had a few names picked out, but when they saw me they agreed that they couldn’t change my name, I was a “Dario” and no other name would have suited me better.
Did you know you were Colombian growing up in Australia?
Yes, I was very much aware that I was adopted and that I was Colombian. I was always told that it was something to be proud of. My parents had lots of hand-woven tapestries hung in our house that they had brought back from Colombia. They tried to do things like that for my sister and I (she was adopted two years later) so that we had something of our homeland around us.
As a kid, what did you know about Colombia?
I actually knew very little, apart from what bits and pieces I would see on TV or read in books. And to be completely honest, as a young boy, I really wasn’t that interested in knowing a whole lot about Colombia.
Growing up, what did being Colombian mean to you?
I’ve never really thought about this or looked back at my life through this context. My honest answer though, is it meant very little; other than being an explanation as to why I looked different.
People have always been unable to pinpoint my ethnicity. I most commonly get mistaken for Filipino. So being Colombian was really only a clarifier for me; “no, I’m Colombian” I would say, “oh, right”, people would say back and that would be that. It was not until I was in my teens that I actually started to take an interest, asking myself, “why do I look the way I do, why is my skin brown, who are the Colombian people?” When I started to look for the answers to these questions, it felt like I had opened a box I didn’t even know was closed.
What do you know about your birth parents?
Of my biological mother, I have only the name on my birth certificate. All my life, this is all I’ve had. Most recently, after having received my adoption file from ICBF in Colombia, it appears that this name may not be her full name either. Of my biological father, I have found out who he is and have a little information about his life story. This came about as a result of taking a DNA test with Ancestry. I have a half-sister who did the test also and whom the website identified as “close family”. In the beginning, we weren’t sure how we were related but a DNA test of her father provided us with the confirmation of the relationship.
What inspired you to do a DNA test?
It was something I had wanted to do for a while but I think the big push came for me when my wife became pregnant with our son. I wanted to be able to tell him of his heritage and history. When it’s just you who doesn’t know the answers, it’s something you can live with; you can internalise it, deal with it and move on. But now that I was going to have a son, all those unanswered questions about who I was became much more important because it was going to form part of who my son is. So I did the test to get some clear scientific clarification on those questions I had been asking myself since I was a teenager.
Tell us a little more about this DNA test… Did it help you reclaim your Colombian identity?
If I had opened that metaphorical box with my questions as a teen, then the DNA test helped to practically smash that box to pieces. I saw in my results something I had guessed at but had never been able to know for certain. I saw that I was half Indigenous and half European. Now, I’m sure that if you grow up in Colombia then this is just something you take for granted and you understand you’re mestizo and it’s never even given a second thought. But for me this was huge and set me on a path of self-discovery, reading everything I could, particularly about my Indigenous heritage.
This idea of reclaiming my Colombian identity is so complex and multi-layered. The more I dive into this the more I realise there are so many facets to what being Colombian means to me. And I twist and turn with it. I feel like, at best, I’ll only ever be an approximation of what I think it is to be “Colombian”.
In my DNA results lies the history of the conquest, the history of colonialism. These are macro-level events that have created me and informed Colombian identity, society and culture at a broad level. In an abstract sense my adoption and the adoption (and on a darker note, child trafficking) of so many Colombian children is just another reverberation down through time of that initial impact. So these are all things I’m trying to deal with and understand.
Have you been back to Colombia?
I am always asked this question and no, unfortunately, I haven’t. I would like to go.
Would you consider going back and would visiting with your family be an option?
I would definitely consider going back. Two of my friends, who are also adopted from Colombia, have recently gone back to live there for a while with their biological families. I really admire them for their courage to do this, it’s not an easy thing. I would love to visit with my biological family however it’s a little complicated on that front.
How did you find your passion for Hip Hop?
When I was a kid, in the ’80s, I was always drawn to that type of music, albeit at first just what you would hear on the radio, i.e. New Jack Swing, Pop Rap etc. When I was about 11 I became friends with a couple of other kids, a few years older than me who were into Hip Hop and introduced me to acts like Public Enemy, Eric B and Rakim, EPMD etc. I had found my niche. I wanted to rap and together we started a crew. We went by the name Industrial Dispute to start with and then changed our name to Fathom; once we really had a sense of our own style and direction. We were very fortunate that the old school crews at the time saw the potential in us and put us on. It meant so much to have their support. This was the era before the internet so you really had to show and prove your skills and earn their respect. There was no SoundCloud back then. Fathom went on to be an integral part of the Sydney underground HipHop scene in the ’90s; part of the New School crews that came up during that era. I’m still best friends with those guys to this day. After Fathom had run its course I decided to pursue a solo career, becoming a part of the Sydney Crew, Basic Equipment, releasing a vinyl EP, two albums and various contributions to a number of Hip Hop compilations. Hip Hop has given me some of the best years of my life.
Would you consider coming back and writing rhymes again?
Certainly. When I stepped away from MCing, I never stepped away from Hip Hop. It will always be one of my great loves. Over the years I have often thought about returning to music, but I have been directing my creative energy into my fine art over the last 10 years. That has been my creative priority. Now I’m at a point where I feel like I may have room for both in my life. But we’ll see. It’s been a while so I’m not putting any pressure on myself.
How did you get your start in Fine Arts?
A little over ten years I ago I felt like I needed a change. Up until this point, I had been actively creating Hip Hop music for 16 years. I was working on a third album, trying to take my music career to another level, hooking up with management and then it all just sorta fell through for a number of complicated reasons. I was left feeling very disillusioned. So I after some soul searching I decided to return to my first creative love – the visual arts.
I had always had an aptitude for representational art but had never had any formal training. A good friend of mine happened to come across the Julian Ashton School of Arts and encouraged me to take a look. I’m glad she did and I became a part-time student for 5 years, studying at night after work. During this time I began to develop my love of landscape painting and sought out artists, whose styles that I liked, that I could learn from. I consider myself a landscape painter first and foremost. I tend to work en plein air, painting outside, directly from life. It is demanding but extremely rewarding. I also enjoy painting portraiture and still life.
In 2016 I was lucky enough to attend the Annual Plein Air Painting convention in Tucson, Arizona on behalf of Michael Harding Paints, demonstrating my painting technique to an audience of attendees. Michael and his wife Karyn have been big supporters of my work and I am a brand ambassador for their paints. I am also an associate member of the Royal Art Society of NSW.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
Not in the near future. I just had an exhibition at the end of last year, so now I’m just enjoying painting without the pressure and exploring new ideas for my next one. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to tell my story.
Interview and photos by Aimee Flores