Grupo Fantasma: 'Gold' Sounds of Latin Funk

Grupo Fantasma

Grupo Fantasma. Crawford Morgan hide caption

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The 10-piece funky Latin ensemble from Austin, Texas got a big boost last year when Prince chose them to headline the weekly Latin night at his Las Vegas club. Their new album Sonidos Gold features saxophonist Maceo Parker and Fania All-Star Larry Harlow.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Finally, today we bring you Grupo Fantasma, a 10-piece band from Austin, Texas. They have a new CD out. It's called "Sonidos Gold." Music journalist Christian Bordal met with some of Grupo Fantasma's members recently at a gig in Knoxville, Tennessee. And as he discovered, for a band that hasn't made it too big yet, Grupo Fantasma's been teaming up with some pretty big names.

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: When Prince played "The Tonight Show," a couple of months ago he was backed up by the horn section of a little known band called Grupo Fantasma. They'd heard about Prince's weekly Latin night at his club in Vegas. Here's Adrian Quesada, Grupo Fantasma's producer and guitarist.

Mr. ADRIAN QUESADA (Guitarist, Grupo Fantasma): We sent him up a CD and heard that he was actually going to listen to the CD, which was already crazy for us. For us, that would have been a story to tell our grandkids already, that Prince popped our CD into the CD player, but we got a call that he liked it and we ended up playing there, and he made us his Thursday night house-band.

BORDAL: Grupo Fantasma was originally two bands. A funk rock outfit called Blimp and a funk jazz band called Blue Noise.

Mr. QUESADA: The two bands just complemented each other nicely because the Blimp was a rhythm section with a vocalist and the Blue Noise band, we had horns.

BORDAL: A number of the players come from Laredo, Texas, and when they merged the two bands, bassist Greg Gonzales says...

Mr. GREG GONZALES (Bassist, Grupo Fantasma): We decided to try and make a blend of what we were already doing with the kind of tropical Latin influence that we had heard in a more Mexican kind of border town, but...

BORDAL: These guys are clearly strong musicians, but a funk rock band doesn't just suddenly start playing traditional grooves, like Cumbia and Rumba without doing its homework.

Mr. GONZALES: We feel that we really had to dedicate a lot of time to actually learn sort of dissect you know, a lot of different traditional Latin music, and really get in there and figure out what's going on and at the same time interpret to where it feels natural to us.

BORDAL: Grupo Fantasma is very conscious of its musical roots and on the new CD, "Sonidos Gold," the band gets cameos from some of its heroes of the 1970s - on the funk side, Maceo Parker, James Brown's sax player. And from the world of Latin orchestra, Larry Harlow, one of the leaders of the La Fania All Stars.

BORDAL: If you're going to be a professional musician and live with all the travel and uncertainty and craziness, then playing with a big group of friends in a fun, funky Latin orchestra seems like a pretty good way to go. Grupo Fantasma is on tour now and the band is known for its rollicking live shows. The new studio album was recorded without much over-dubbing, in order to capture the energy and immediacy of their performances. You can tell that these guys are having a good time.

BORDAL: So if you're planning to go cruising on Sunset Boulevard or just boogying with your homies, here's to Grupo Fantasma updating some of that funky boogaloo for your summer soundtrack. For NPR News, this is Christian Bordal.

COHEN: Music journalist, Christian Bordal, lives in southern California. Grupo Fantasma's new CD is called "Sonidos Gold."

COHEN: Day to Day's a production of NPR News, with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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