I have been in Austin for almost a month and a half and somehow I am only now listening to a Latin American band. This is weird since Austin, and Texas in general, is a hotbed of Latin culture. Cruising around the dial, there is an almost 50/50 split between English and Spanish speaking stations, and some people have even gone so far as to describe Austin as the “true northern border of Mexico.” Whereas yesterday Carter said he was expecting country music, I was expecting some badass Latin Funk. My wait is over.
Grupo Fantasma is a 10 piece Latin Funk Rock juggernaut. They have been covered by NPR, Billboard, and this year took home the Grammy for “Best Latin Rock, Alternative or Urban Album”. They formed in 2000 and describe their influences as “cumbia, salsa, old-school funk, reggae and more.” They are also tight, really really tight. Their musicianship rivals a Carlos Santana backup band and their energy needs no comparisons.
Grupo Fantasma seems most comfortable starting with a syncopated Latin foundation of some kind and then branching out into other genres from there. Such as “Montañozo” off of 2010’s El Existential, in which they start off riding a cumbia groove only to incorporate a spaghetti western style guitar lead. However, as you dive deeper into their work it becomes apparent that this is a group of seriously strong musicians who feel comfortable in a variety of styles. Listen to the slow 70’s funk of “Gimme Some” off of 2008’s Sonidos Gold, or to the hectic jazz influence on “El Consejo” also from El Existential. It’s near impossible to peg them in a style or genre because they fly all over the spectrum, drawing from this during the verse and that during the bridge. Throw this stuff on and it’ll be impossible not to tap you feet and smile at the multicultural funkiness blasting out of your stereo.
I lucked out with Grupo Fantasma; I had always been intimidated by Latin American music because I never had it around me growing up. Being from the Northeast, there just wasn’t an emphasis on Spanish language music during my musical development. Grupo Fantasma is the remedy for that; their smooth blending of musical and cultural styles makes a perfect introduction to the world of Latin Rock.