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Dafnis Prieto: Making It Count

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The 2012-13 Asper series began this September with a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. The band was fantastic, and made up mostly of people who have been to Winnipeg before—Marcus Printup on trumpet, Gary Smulyan on baritone saxophone, Ed Simon on piano, and Winnipeg’s own Steve Kirby on the bass. The drummer was the only newcomer: Dafnis Prieto.

I have been a fan of Prieto’s for years, starting with his first album, About the Monks, which was introduced to me by Terreon Gully, my first drum teacher in the U of M’s Jazz Studies program. Many of my peers, however, were unfamiliar with him. Thankfully, at the beginning of the weekend, we were treated to a masterclass by Prieto.

This Cuban-born drummer is a composer and arranger of the highest level, and along with the many Afro-Cuban artists he has worked with, he has also played with some of the leading figures in the jazz avant-garde, such as Steve Coleman and Henry Threadgill. This is part of what makes him so intriguing: the combination of authentic Cuban music with some of the most advanced musical concepts on the planet. This is still only a small part of what he’s able to do. In his masterclass he played completely authentic Brazilian music, and in the concerts he swung like crazy!

When I refer to the music he made as authentic, what I mean is that he has truly studied it to the point of making it a part of himself. This in itself is no small feat, but for Dafnis, this was only the starting point. He showed us how he could take the cascara rhythm, the bread and butter of Afro-Cuban percussion, and apply it to many different rhythmic feels: accelerating, decelerating, playing it as a hip hop beat, etc.

I had the privilege of going to Cuba when I was in grade 11 at Silver Heights Collegiate, and one of the things that struck me, as with most North Americans visiting that country, was how much the people did with so little. It’s become almost a cliché to talk about the Cuban citizens’ resourcefulness. They are so appreciative of any gift, which in our case was musical instruments, that they wring every last bit of use out of it.

That trip was seven years ago, but sitting in the masterclass, it hit me. Dafnis has applied that same philosophy to musical information. He explained to us that he has always tried to get the most music out of the smallest amount of information. This really is the essence of creative thought: being as resourceful as you can, and really focusing on something long enough to exhaust every possibility.

Thanks for the revelation, Dafnis.


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