Dafnis Pietro was born in Santa Clara, Cuba, in 1974, and he didn’t take long to become immersed in the rich Afrocuban musical tradition of his homeland.
He entered a conservatory to study drums at age 10, and when he was 14 he went to Havana — 174 miles away — to enroll in the National School of Music. In 1999, he moved to New York City and dove headfirst into the city’s music scene, establishing himself as a top-flight percussionist as well as a composer and educator.
Pietro drums in a Pollock-esque splatter of rhythms and beats, delicately weaving the fiery polyrhythms of his native Cuba with the melting pot of jazz, funk and the avant garde he encountered in New York City. His virtuosic talents earned him a MacArthur Fellowship in 2011, and he will perform as part of the Americas Latino Festival at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16, in the McNichols Civic Center Building (144 W. Colfax Ave., Denver).
“I always think that I’m working with where I come from, from that ancestry background,” Prieto says. “That gives me a great confidence of who I am as a person, and also as a musician. I’ve been influenced by a lot of cultures, most importantly American culture, but also all those other cultures, musically speaking. It’s not like I’ve taken something just to put something [else] back. It’s more than [just] replacing; it’s just adding to the same pot.”
His current group, the Dafnis Prieto Proverb Trio, perfectly represents the way the drummer synthesizes the influences around him. In the trio, he joins forces with keyboardist Jason Linder and emcee/singer Kokayi Issa. The music they make is mostly improvisational. Linder sometimes dances around his instrument producing atmospheric, jazz-influenced ambiance, and at times he hammers basslines with his left hand, giving the trio a center from which to spin outward into joyous, spiraling improvisations. Kokayi layers spoken word, rap and the occasional sung vocal on top of it all. The resulting music is almost impossible to classify. And, according to Pietro, that’s all fine with him.
“Well at this moment, for me right now, I just don’t play genres. I don’t defend a specific genre. All of them are filtered through my personal sound,” the drummer says. “That’s the most sincere way I can play music, even though I give all my respect to any kind of genre, I still, I define myself with all of it, and at the same time, I have opened the possibility to myself to get my own personal criteria about it, musically speaking. And that’s, for me, one of the most important things. Genres were created by human beings, they weren’t created out of the blue. These musicians have their own personal way of doing things even within the genre. I just don’t feel like I represent one or the other. I represent all of them, even though I come from a very exclusive and very boss culture of Cuban music.
“I cannot try to play how people played 30 years ago. I wouldn’t be consequent to the way I live. So for me, everything is more connected in a way. The world is getting smaller by a long entirety.”
See www.americaslatinofestival.org for the full schedule.