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Grupo Fantasma, Chicha Libre bring alt-Latin rhythms to Royce Hall

November 09, 2012|By Reed Johnson
  • Austin-based Grupo Fantasma will be playing at UCLA's Royce Hall.
Austin-based Grupo Fantasma will be playing at UCLA's Royce Hall. (Grupo Fantasma )

The hothouse flowers of Latin-alternative music are popping up everywhere these days, not only in Bogota, Lima and Mexico City, but in Brooklyn and Austin as well.

Friday night, two of the most intrepidly progressive of those bands -- Brooklyn's surfer-psychedelic-pop band Chicha Libre and Austin-based southwest Latin-funk Grupo Fantasma --  share a bill at UCLA's Royce Hall. We spoke by phone earlier this week with Greg Gonzalez of Grupo Fantasma. Here's an edited transcript of the conversation.

A growing number of U.S. non-Latino indie and alternative artists seem to be sampling and assimilating Latin music genres and rhythms such as son jarocho and cumbia. What do you make of it?

I think in general there's been more of a blending from different kinds of cultures and different styles of music now, especially that people have access to music so easily that you can just Spotify and hear a band you never heard of, or just look someone up on YouTube. So it's really broken down the financial barriers to exploratory listening, if you will. But there's also been an explosion in the kind of DJ-ing and mixtape culture via the Internet as well, and for a long time DJs have -- more so than live musicians -- had their finger on the pulse of other kinds of sounds, because of their propensity for digging deep into the stacks and finding songs that other people didn't know. And certainly the growth of the Latino population in America can't be denied, and I'm sure those sounds and those flavors are becoming more widespread as a result.

You and some of the other band members first moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas. Why has it made sense for you guys to be based in Austin?

It wasn't intentional to stay here, we just kind of formed here and got fairly successful. And to a certain extent it's been helpful because for a long time costs were lower here than they would be, say, in Los Angeles or New York. I also think it helped us because not only did it give us a unique sound and unique scene, but it also made it financially feasible for a 10-piece band to exist.

When you were growing up did you listen to any of the Chicano bands of East L.A.? Were they part of your musical worldview?

I would say Los Lobos, when they did the "La Bamba" thing, that had a huge impact on the border and on south Texas and I guess on Mexican-American communities around the country. Once we moved to Austin we were instantly familiarized with Ozomatli and some of the other bands that were out there doing Latino rock, and we instantly had an affinity and a familiarity, even if our sound was totally different. We played with Ozo here in Austin several times, as well as in Dallas. The last time we were in Los Angeles several members of our other band, Brownout, which is several of the members of Fantasma, played with Wil-Dog of Ozomatli's banda project.


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