Drummer Mixes Beats from Cuba, New York
If life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, like John Lennon said, then you should plan to lose yourself in the music of Cuban drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto when he performs with his Si o Si Quartet Friday at Lafayette College.
To catch what this gifted performer is experiencing on stage, you have to pay attention to the present moment. You can’t be thinking about your problems. You have to wake up to appreciate it, and waking you up is exactly what the 39-year-old MacArthur Fellow is after with his festive Caribbean rhythms and sentimental arrangements.
“Everything that I do in music is related to my life,” he says from New York where he has lived for more than a decade. “Being a musician is a way of life, it’s not a job.”
Prieto draws from the artistic wealth he discovered as a youngster growing up in the neighborhoods of Santa Clara. He fell in love with the guitar at an age when most kids are playing miniature cars. He took to the bongos and congas as well and, by the time he was 10, he began studying at a musical conservatory.
“Most of the music comes with a touch of where I come from,” he says. “I’m talking about an age where the world is not more than a kilometer around from where you live.”
The music that he will perform with his quartet is imbued with those colors that painted his formative years. But he is taking what he learned in Cuba and mixing it with the contemporary currents that ebb and flow in the current New York jazz scene.
It’s a scene that he took by storm upon his arrival in 1999, playing with figures such as Eddie Palmieri, Michel Camilo, Steve Coleman and Chucho Valdez, among others. He is part of a wave young innovators in the genre that includes composers such as the pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist, and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenon and other talented drummers such as Marcus Gilmore and Henry Cole.
Prieto has been on the music faculty at New York University since 2005. In 2006, he earned the “Up and Coming Musician of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association. In 2007 he was nominated for a Grammy for “Absolute Quintet” as Best Latin Jazz Album. He was also nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist that year. In 2011, he earned the MacArthur Fellowship Award, which has allowed him to delve deeper in his musical explorations.
“I’m not trying to take away where I’m coming from,” he says “but I’m trying to balance that with where I’m going to. And where I’m going to is the personalization of that Now.”
Although Prieto’s tunes are drenched with a certain effervescence that stems greatly from his Afro-Cuban influences he is not limited to any style.
“I’m really following any genre when I think of music,” he says. “I just happen to have that information inside myself and it comes that way.”
He is not afraid to reveal all aspects of his life when he is on stage. His goal, he says, is to give the listener an intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience.
Prieto was inspired by Cuban musicians such as the legendary percussionist known as Changuito and pianist Emiliano Salvador. To that he has added a plethora of other influences that exude from him in original ways.
Don’t expect to find obvious associations to what you’ll hear Friday when Prieto takes the stage with longtime collaborator Manuel Valera on piano, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, and Peter Apfelbaum on tenor and soprano saxophones. Most of it will seem completely new, and the quartet wouldn’t want it any other way.
“Live the present moment,” Prieto says, “as a new experience. Try to fly and walk and smile and cry with us on stage.”
DAFNIS PRIETO AND THE SI O SI QUARTET
•When: 8 p.m. Friday
•Where: Williams Center for the Arts, Lafayette College, High and Hamilton streets. Easton.
•How much: $20; $6, students
•Info: 610-330-5009, williamscenter.lafayette.edu.