Listening Guide: Dafnis Prieto

Since Dafnis Prieto last visited the DACAMERA stage, the Cuban-born drummer, composer, bandleader, educator, and 2011 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow has won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz album and realized a long-standing dream project. Since he arrived in New York City in 1999, Prieto has been expanding his jazz presence from sideman to bandleader with his own quintet, and now he’s arrived as a tour de force with his own Big Band. We explore his contemporary take on Latin jazz through this listening guide that includes his earlier work, his Grammy-winning big band music and a couple videos that explore Prieto’s musical experience both creating the album and performing it in his native Cuba.

1. The Making Of The Dream Project

Known for his innovative writing style and propulsive drumming, Prieto’s Big Band aspirations date back some 30 years to his adolescence in Santa Clara, Cuba. Back to the Sunset, the debut album of the Dafnis Prieto Big Band, is a personal expression of gratitude to all the mentors and influences that inspired him. In this video, Prieto shares the project’s origin story.

2. Song For Chico

Eric Oberstein, co-producer of Back to the Sunset, told Downbeat Magazine, “I fell in love with ‘Song For Chico’ the moment I heard it. Dafnis’ beautiful, lush melodies captured me, and I’ve never met anyone with such an incredible sense of time. His pieces are little journeys that take hairpin turns, but he’s always in control as he takes you down his beautiful path.”

3. About the Monks

The title track of Prieto’s 2004 album, his first as a bandleader, commanded attention and noted a rising talent on the jazz scene, especially as Prieto not only produced and arranged the album, but wrote all the music.

4. Si o Si

The MacArthur Foundation, on naming Prieto one of their “Genius” Fellows in 2011, described his work as “infusing Latin jazz with a bold new energy and sound.” Si o Si, from his live album in 2009, sounds exactly like what they were referring to.

5. Danzonish Potpourri

Returning to his newer Big Band music, there’s no way not to include ‘Danzonish Potpourri,’ the opening track that leads with Prieto’s signature percussive style and
“expresses the sheer force and depth of field that only a big band can achieve,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

7. Montreal Drum Festival in 2006

With all of his other roles and accomplishments, it’s possible to lose sight of the fact that Prieto is first and foremost a percussionist of incomparable talent. This live drum solo from the 2006 Montreal Drum Festival is a reminder.

8. Regresar

In January 2019, Dafnis Prieto returned to his native Cuba to perform his music on the island for the first time in 20 years. Emmy-nominated filmmaker Saleem Reshamwala (KidEthnic) joined to document this historic and emotional moment for the short film, Regresar: Back in Cuba.

The Dafnis Prieto Big Band will perform at DACAMERA on Saturday, March 21, at 8 pm in the Cullen Theater at the Wortham Theater Center. Tickets start at $37.50 and are available here.