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At a recent TED talk in D.C., Kokayi spoke on his love for hip-hop, a genre he says infuses all others. “When I hear people talk about ‘Hey man, do you like rock music?’ I’m like ‘Yeah, I like rock music,'” he told the crowd. “It’s hip-hop, with guitars.”
Then perhaps his three-year-old ensemble The Dafnis Prieto Proverb Trio isn’t jazz: It’s percussive hip-hop with synthesizers. And congas. And a lot of Kokayi vocals. On the group’s recently released self-titled debut album, labels don’t fit. Many of these songs flirt with avant-garde fare; “Extasis,” for instance, is a loose instrumental of quiet keys, soft drums, and a drifting bass line. On “Mystery Man,” drummer Dafnis Prieto and keyboardist Jason Lindner share the spotlight; Prieto’s military marching percussion dances with Lindner’s ambient synths.
Still, when Kokayi is at the helm, the results are almost transformative. On “What Have We All Done,” the album’s clear centerpiece, the vocalist bemoans Earth’s peril with soul-stirring grit, his depressed baritone set off by volcanic drum breaks. “Polluted sea,” he sings, “smog rises higher, for the stars to see.” “Mother Nature,” meanwhile, is a celebratory Afrobeat jam of stampeding drums and lively key strokes.
So while Kokayi is focused on hip-hop, this is clearly something else. There’s some soul (“You and Me”), rock (“In War”), and a little bossa nova (“Vamos a Jugar”). Call it what you want, just call it good music.