This week’s Alive After Five headliner: Grupo Fantasma
Go Listen Boise local opener: Oso Negro

Known as the funkiest, finest and hardest working Latin orchestra to come out of the United States in the last decade, Grupo Fantasma has garnered critical acclaim worldwide for their adventurous albums, prudent songwriting and unprecedented live shows. “Grupo Fantasma is as tight as one would expect from a band that routinely backs up Prince,” exclaimed LA Weekly, and the Washington Post affirmed that “the ten members represent a new generation of Latin music.” Their 2008 effort, the Grammy nominated Sonidos Gold, further trademarked the ensemble’s innovative sound and scored a cover feature in Pollstar Magazine, radio spots on NPR’s “Day to Day” and PRI’s “The World”, top ten status for several months on the CMJ radio charts and extensive press coverage throughout North America and Europe.

“We’ve been around through two so-called ‘cumbia revivals’ and a renewed DJ interest in the music of Fania Records,” notes guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada. “On El Existential, we feel like we have moved past any retro or novelty tags to explore even more timeless musical and lyrical themes, and multiple members of the band stepped up to contribute to the writing process. It’s clearly our strongest lyrical effort to date with concepts based around the album’s title in addition to tales of betrayal and deceit, surreal dreams, growing older and wiser, and of course women and relationships.” Without sounding too pretentious, Quesada states: “There was a lot of pressure to deliver after the success, critical acclaim and Grammy nomination of our last album, but I feel as if we have overcome any expectations and made our best record yet.”

In so many ways, their music is a bundle of contrasts and contradictions. It is art made on the hyphen, a hybrid Latin-American beast of many dancing legs, hearts and minds. Nostalgic sounds recombine and morph in novel ways, lyrics touch on subjects seldom broached in today’s commercial salsa or cumbia, traditions are revealed like forgotten treasure only to be refashioned into a New World gerrymander, a skill that seems unique to the resourceful children of Neo-Colonialism. Grupo Fantasma knits together the rural with the urban, melds Anglo, Afro and Latino with such expert carefree abandon you barely notice it — it’s so natural seeming. It’s not until you try to describe all the song genres (futile) or unravel the strands (too intertwined) that you realize the music is actually quite a complex web of artifice, with the ultimate revelation that you have been witnessing a sublime collective consciousness at work and a group that finishes with something that sounds both intentional and whole.

The band’s incendiary live show has also stockpiled rave reviews across North American, Europe and beyond. After catching Fantasma at the third annual Fun Fun Fun Fest in their hometown of Austin, Texas, Dead Milkmen frontman Rodney Anonymous noted on his blog that “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen these guys come out of a Tex-Mex drum solo into Led Zeppelin’s ‘Moby Dick.’” Highlights from the past few years include the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Bonnaroo, Jelly NYC Pool Party, Montreal Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands, the horn section performing with Prince at Coachella, London’s 02 Arena and the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and two ten-day engagements to entertain troops stationed in Kuwait and Iraq. Grupo Fantasma was also selected to perform at WOMEX, the exclusive world music expo, in Copenhagen, Denmark, this past October.

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