• Drummer Dafnis Prieto Talks About Indian Music

    November 1, 2011. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Snow derailed WBGO’s plans to record Omar Sosa’s Afreecanos and The Fort Apache Band at NJPAC in Newark this Saturday. Musicians from both bands made it through the slush for the show, as did one couple who drove from Ottawa in Canada to take in this exceptional double-bill of Latin jazz.

    Jerry Gonzalez
    Jerry Gonzalez

    We planned to record the performances for Toast of the Nation, the coast-to-coast New Years Eve broadcast we produce every year for National Public Radio. NJPAC’s house crew, our engineer David Tallacksen and producer Becca Pulliam worked hard to perfect the sound stage, creating what Sosa, a Cuban pianist who lives in Spain, called his “best sound check ever.”

    Spirits were high, the musicians were ready and the house doors were open when Governor Christie declared a statewide snow emergency, and we were all sent home. Both bands wanted to stay and play for the broadcast, but the Governor’s orders were implacable.

    One bright spot was that musicians from both bands spent some quality time together. Sosa’s Mozambican bassist, Childo Thomas, for instance, discovered Larry Willis, Fort Apache’s pianist, speaks fluent Portuguese – he was once married to the daughter of Vinicius de Moraes, the Brazilian who wrote the lyrics to The Girl from Ipanema and other Bossa Nova classics. Thomas and Willis prattled away in Lusophonic delight.

    I got a chance to sit down with Cuban-American drummer Dafnis Prieto, who was there with Fort Apache, but who has also performed many times with Sosa.

    Among other things, Dafnis told me was leaving the next morning for six weeks in India, where he will be a guest teacher at SAM, the Swarnabhoomy Academy of Music, near the southern city of Chennai.

    Dafnis Prieto
    Dafnis Prieto

    SAM is a “music ashram” founded by Prasanna, a 41-year-old jazz guitarist and Berklee graduate who aims to introduce contemporary approaches to improvised music to India. The school teaches the traditional improvisational techniques of Karnatic classical music, and invites guests from overseas to teach jazz, such as Prieto and fellow drummer Ferenc Nemeth, guitarist Sebastian Cruz, pianists Nicole Zuraitis and Manu Koch, and singer Lara Bello.

    Indian music has fascinated Dafnis since he was a child, and he has been studying the Karnatic tala system for rhythmic improvisation to find ways it can be combined with the clave and cáscara patterns from West Africa, which are the foundation of Afro-Caribbean music, including salsa and most Latin jazz.

    In our conversation, Prieto even demonstrated how he combines these rhythms in his own drumming.

    Click on the "Listen Now" link above to hear more of my conversation with Prieto,. He promised to catch up after his return to the States to tell us all that he learned in India. Enjoy!

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