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Dafnis Prieto: Experiments in Spontaneity

By Published: October 16, 2012
The titles of the songs come later, because no one is sure what story Kokayi will cook up as the trio stirs the pot and creates its music. "We did the music, and out of the content of what we were doing came the titles of it. There was no title before," says the drummer. There was also some editing, but not overdubbing. "I did some fade-ins and fade-outs for some of the tunes. I wanted to have sequence in the record. Not only as a player, but a listener, to have a sequence where it could be appealing. Different kind of textures and stuff like that. I'm really happy with the way it came out. We have [material for] more than two more records from the same session, because we have four-and-a-half hours of music and we put out one hour. We have the rest in archive."

Twelve songs, twelve titles on the inaugural CD. But when the trio plays out, that music may not be heard again. Certainly not in the fashion that it was originally created. Concerts are—like the recording—an on-the-spot creation. Explains Prieto, "The idea for the record is more of an archive, or a possibility for us to present what we do. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we are going to repeat ourselves when we do a live performance. We keep it as open as when we did the album. We might go on for 15 minutes playing one tune. Not only one tune, it could be three or four tunes in one—if we're calling tunes the amount of moods we can have within one length, going in and out."

It's not important whether people want to put the music into the jazz category, where Prieto resides as one of the genre's outstanding drummers. "I just call it music, because it involves so many things," he says. "I'm not thinking genres because I'm influenced by so many genres and so many different sources. When we say improvisation, we have a tendency to think about jazz as a requirement. It is something that identifies that character of improvisation. But improvisation has been going on for centuries, going back to the first early African music and Indian music. Many other cultures have a lot of improvisation. We're talking about thousands of years ago. So improvisation has been [around] since music was created."

Prieto wants to express himself through the drums and through his compositions, alongside other outstanding musicians. While he is a major player on the Latin Jazz scene, he can play it all. But genre doesn't really concern him. It's music that concerns him, something that got into his blood at an early age.

He started playing guitar at the age of six, and gradually starting fooling with the bongo drums and then to other percussion instruments. "By the time I started doing my classical training in the School of Fine Arts in Santa Clara [Cuba], where I come from, I went in for percussion. That was the beginning of the whole thing. But it is very important for me to always say that one of the most fundamental moments for me was that I was born in a musical environment. It doesn't necessarily mean I have any musicians in my family. But my neighborhood—a very poor neighborhood in Santa Clara—was very musical. I was always surrounded by music. Therefore I picked up all this inspiration and influences. On the street."

Rhythms were all around him and he soaked it all in. Some of the more important influences were Jose Luis Quintana, called "Changuito," who played drums and timbales in Los Van Van, a popular dance band. Conga players Miguel "Anga" Diaz and Tata Güines were others. "Later on in my life, I had the opportunity to work with them all. Also congueros and musicians that were around my neighborhood. I cannot recall those names now, but they were definitely very important to me in the beginning."

After his schooling, Prieto played in various bands in Cuba. "One of the bands I played in the most was named was Columna B. That band developed a lot of musical things within the four of us. After that, I decided to stay in Spain. I stayed in Spain and then Canada. I was working with [saxophonist] Jane Bunnett
Jane Bunnett
Jane Bunnett
sax, soprano
. Then, during that time with Jane Bunnett, I decided to come to New York." That was in 1999.

"I had been to New York once before. To tell you the truth, I didn't really like it. It was too many things going on for me. Too noisy in every possible way," Prieto says. "Then I had to make the decision to come here because I wanted to do something more with my career. I thought it was kind of destiny to come here. Ironically, I had said two or three years before that, that it wasn't my intention in my life to come to New York. Then I end up making the decision to come to New York. It was kind of an irony. After I came here, everything started developing and building up so I could do what I really wanted to do."

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