The nine-piece collective formed in 2000 in Austin, Texas, and are now entering their 19th year as a band. The group consists of Jose Galeano (timbales, vocals), Kino Esparza (vocals, hand percussion), Beto Martinez (guitar), Greg Gonzalez (bass), John Speice (drums), Matthew “Sweet Lou” Holmes (congas), Gilbert Elorreaga (trumpet), Josh Levy (baritone saxophone) and Mark “Speedy” Gonzales (trombone). Grupo Fantasma has been praised as one of the most important independent acts in the Latin genre and has continually defied expectations to create one of the most unique musical voices to come out of the United States in the 21st century. In 2011, they garnered further acclaim by winning a Grammy (their second such nomination) for their self–produced release El Existential on Nat Geo Music which the Wall Street Journal called “Latin music both new and traditional…vibrant fusions that transcend easy classification.” The band’s incendiary live show, declared by NPR as “seamless whenever and wherever they’re on stage” has brought the band to major festivals and venues internationally including Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, North Sea Jazz Festival (Curacao and Rotterdam) and Lowlands in the Netherlands, Kennedy Center, London’s O2 Arena, Montreal Jazz Festival, WOMEX, WOMAD, Tempo Latino (France) as well as two tours to Kuwait and Iraq to entertain US troops and a recent tour in Pakistan and Qatar. Their diverse spectrum of devoted fans speaks to the ensemble’s universal appeal beyond just Latin or world music. In addition, they have served as the backing band for and collaborated on several occasions with the late, great, legendary Prince (ALMA Awards on ABC, Golden Globes, CBS Super Bowl Bash, 21 Nights in London), Fania All–Stars pianist Larry Harlow, Sheila–E, GZA of Wu–Tang Clan, Maceo Parker, Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets, Ruben Ramos, GZA of the Wu–Tang Clan, cult–hero Daniel Johnston, indie rock standouts Spoon, Los Lobos and many others. In 2015 and 2016 they continued to tour the globe with club and festival dates in support of their 6th studio release, Problemas (Blue Corn Music), produced by Multi–Grammy award winner Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and released in late 2015. Their seventh full-length album American Music Vol. VII was released in March 2019 on Blue Corn Music. The very title of the record takes on definitions of identity, borders and who is illegal or “other.” In presenting their unique multi-ethnic musical mix to audiences over the years, Grupo were constantly challenged by “the concept of identity, citizenship, and the nationality of music,” especially in the press and music industry. Yet, as they attest, in many ways “music is the ultimate assimilator, crossing borders and cultures and mutating to represent the experiences of its performers.” “We maintain that regardless of language, our music is ‘American Music’ because we are from here. Our music is 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.” The band has appeared on the nationally syndicated PBS show Austin City Limits 3 times (2016, 2014, 2007), and their music has been featured in a variety of films and TV shows including Breaking Bad (AMC), Weeds (Showtime), Frankie & Grace (Netflix), Law & Order (NBC) as well as the John Sayles’ film Casa de los Babies.
- Kim Carson
- Mathew Fischer