More than Latin: Grupo Fantasma releases new record 'American Music'
From funk-fueled cumbias to boogaloo beats, Grupo Fantasma has kept Austin hips shaking for nearly 20 years. It’s never mattered how well you dance or what language you speak to enjoy the music and shows. And that’s always been the goal, the band says — celebrating inclusion and diversity through a genre-blending sound.
“Whether you’re a hip-hop head or salsa dancer or someone, like us, from the border who experienced all this mixing, you should be able to share and enjoy this (music) experience together. And in a safe environment,” bassist and Grupo Fantasma founding member Greg Gonzalez says.
On Friday, the Grammy-winning supergroup will release their new album, “American Music: Vol. VII,” which further stretches the reach of their sound with songs inspired by everything from Turkish psychedelia to Tex-Mex. The album's release party is set for 8 p.m. Friday at the Mohawk. Tickets are $20-25.
The title “American Music: Vol. VII" pushes back on the way the band's music has been seen in the past.
“It’s definitely a statement,” Gonzalez says. “We’ve been pigeonholed as Latin music our whole careers, and we felt that’s just a small-minded way to describe the music.” The band has described its music as “a product of our circumstances, and we can still celebrate ethnic and cultural heritage while asserting our identity as Americans and sons of this country.”
With the exception of singer and percussionist José Galeano — originally from Nicaragua but a longtime U.S. citizen — all of the band members are American born. Gonzalez says that describing their music as only Latin is like lumping together hip-hop, bluegrass and jazz music and simply calling it American music.
The album’s name also challenges the “atmosphere in this country right now,” Gonzalez says. “People are describing America as not diverse.” But its the spirit of a melting pot, he says, that make music like Grupo Fantasma's possible.
For the new record coming out on Blue Corn Music, Grupo Fantasma teamed up with noted Miami-based Colombian producer Carlos “El Loco” Bedoya. Bedoya, who has worked with artists such as Beyoncé and Weezer, helped elevate the album, Gonzalez says, with his vast experience as an audio engineer, musician and songwriter. With his help, Grupo Fantasma collaborated on the politically charged song “The Wall” with Ozomatli and Grammy-nominated band Locos Por Juana of Miami.
The band recorded the album at Sonic Ranch in the Texas border town of Tornillo. The town later became the site of a tent facility housing thousands of migrant children.
“That really brought into focus the concept that was right under our nose being constructed," Gonzalez says. The song explores what it means to be an immigrant and questions the effectiveness of a border wall.
Other songs on the album include the English-language “LT,” which features the dhol drumming of Indian fusion band Red Baraat’s Sunny Jain. And for the first time, the band brings an outside vocalist, Tomar Williams of Tomar and the FCs, to the spotlight in the boogaloo tune “Let Me Be,” featuring backup vocalists the Soul Supporters.
Infusing new instrumentation, special guests and themes has helped keep the band’s sound fresh and its fan base loyal.
“We hope people keep supporting live music,” Gonzalez says. “We’ve gone through multiple generations of fans, and hopefully we can also connect with the next generation.”
Grupo Fantasma album release party
When: March 29
Where: The Mohawk (912 Red River St.)
Time: Doors open at 8 p.m. for the all-ages show
More info: mohawkaustin.com/event/grupo-fantasma