el-Existential - Grupo Fantasma

Nat Geo Music

el-Existential may induce a twinge of fear in arachnophobes with its black widow cover art and spider-centric themes, but the music is a sigh of relief for salsaphobes. Since the turn of this century, Grupo Fantasma, an 11-piece Austin orchestra has been retooling the Latin big band sound with a hipper, groovier aesthetic that’s more alternative fusion and less Dancing with the Stars. For many of us, salsa was our initiation into global fusions. The Latin mélange, like the sauce is a blend of flavours. In the Cuban or Puerto Rican varieties, you’ll hear rhythmic and instrumental elements of son, rumba, merengue, guaguancó and more. In salsa dura (or hard salsa) the accent is on the percussion with less vocal emphasis. But Grupo Fantasma blend in much, much more including cumbia, son montuno, Afro-funk, psychedelia, bolero, jazz, folkloric, cinematic soundtrack and even new wave. The result is deceptively a natural extension of salsa and existential evidence of something completely new. The follow-up to 2008’s acclaimed ‘Sonidos Gold’ eschewed traditional methodology right from the get go. The band holed-up in a three bedroom Austin-area rental house, converting it into an analog recording environment to promote a domestic, experimental collaboration. Outside contributors like pianist Larry Harlow and Meat Puppets’ guitarist Curt Kirkwood spark even more imaginings (the latter on el-Existential’s most dynamic composition, Telaraña or Spider’s Web). In Caribbean folklore, the spider or ananci is known as the trickster. el-Existential spins an unpredictable web that entraps and intrigues from start to finish. As Sir Walter Scott put it, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”.