He may not dominate the pop charts the way he did in the mid-’80s, but in terms of musical cachet, Prince remains the ultimate superdelegate. An endorsement from him carries with it the assurance that you’re creating something of substance.
That’s why Austin’s Grupo Fantasma has been on such a dizzying high for the last year and a half. During that time, Prince has made them a weekly regular at his Vegas club, fronted them at a Golden Globes after-party and an ALMA Awards broadcast, taken them on a tour of Britain, and employed their in-the-pocket horn section for appearances on the Tonight Show and the Coachella Festival.
The Prince connection has transformed Grupo Fantasma from a Latin-funk ensemble admired by a small clique of critics and fellow musicians into the most famous obscure band on the planet. They’ll test the possibilities of their new-found fame with Sonidos Gold, their third album, which hits stores on June 17.
What immediately strikes you about Sonidos Gold is probably the same thing that captivated Prince the first time he heard this 11-piece ensemble: This band is a soulful, take-no-prisoners rhythm machine. Even when stripped down to percussion and voice, as on the first half of “Rumba y Guaguanco,“ they defy listeners to sit still. They lay on the heavy wah-wah funk with “Bacalao Con Pan” and settle into an irresistible timbale groove with “Cumbia De Los Pajaritos.”
It’s on “Gimme Some,” however, where they connect the dots between their roots, their projections for the future, and their exciting friendship with the Fuchsia Monarch. With legendary saxman — and current Prince sideman — Maceo Parker honking away, they recall the feel of Santana’s version of “Oye Como Va” (a tune they’ve played with Santana-worshiping Prince), bust into a vocal snippet from Santana’s “No One to Depend On,” and climax with a furious jam.
This is Grupo Fantasma’s pop-culture moment, and while it’s hard to believe they’re booked in a compact club like Rock Bottom Tattoo Bar, it’s equally hard to believe that San Antonians will ever again get a chance to see them in such an intimate setting. 8pm Sat, May 10, $12/$14, Rock Bottom Tattoo Bar, 1033 Ave. B, (210) 224-4005
— Gilbert Garcia