Grupo Fantasma’s Latin roots co-exist with stints as Prince’s backing band

Grupo Fantasma
3:30 P.M. Sunday, Main Stage

Latin roots mix with funky and classic rock influences to form Austin super-band Grupo Fantasma.

This is a group extremely cozy with the ever-changing music business. Now in its 10th year together, the band has recorded four previous albums and will release its most recent effort, “El Existential,” on May 11.

The 10 musicians labeled themselves Grupo Fantasma as an homage to cumbia (a style of Columbian music and folk dance) bands that often incorporate the word “grupo.” Although initially sticking strictly to cumbias, it eventually branched out into incorporating elements of salsa and other Latin styles while maintaining a steady influence of funk and rock. Unlike past projects, the new album was written in the studio and will be adapted to suit live performances.

“Our material has always been written for the live show, tested and refined at the show and then ultimately recorded. We actually had the time for this album to write in the studio. We had only a handful of songs going into the recording process, so this was the perfect opportunity to try this out,” said guitarist Beto Martinez.

The ensemble’s fully developed and complex sound stems from its eclectic mix of instruments. Everyday drums and guitars are incorporated, along with several brass pieces and conga and timbale drums, both of Cuban origin. As compared to more traditional Latin projects, Grupo Fantasma’s two guitarists play the role that a pianist or keyboardist would usually take.

“We didn’t want to be a typical Latin band, and the sound that we’ve come to have is definitely a result of our myriad of influences,” Martinez said.

The musicians are known for their loud and energetic live shows; as Dead Milkmen’s Rodney Anonymous expressed on his blog, “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen these guys come out of a Tex-Mex drum solo into Led Zeppelin’s ‘Moby Dick.'”

The band is perhaps best known for backing musical legend Prince and performing at his club, 3121, in Las Vegas. Together, Prince and Grupo Fantasma have played such gigs as 2007’s ALMA Awards and Super Bowl XLI. In 2009, the ensemble received a Grammy nomination for its fourth album, “Sonidos Gold.” “Emily Hopkins

Emily Hopkins

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