Guide To Grupo’s New Album, ‘Problemas

David Greene speaks with Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras about Grupo Fantasma. Its new album, “Problemas,” can be heard in full on our website this week, as part of NPR Music’s “First Listen” feature.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

If you’re a fan of ’60s-’70s classic rock, you might recognize this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BECAUSE”)

GRUPO FANTASMA: (Singing in Spanish).

GREENE: No, I’m serious. I know it sounds a little different. But listen closely. You might recognize it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, ” BECAUSE”)

GRUPO FANTASMA: (Singing in Spanish).

GREENE: Got it? Yes? No? OK. Well, this is actually bicultural arrangement of the classic Beatles track “Because.” It comes from the Austin-based band, Grupo Fantasma from their new album called “Problemas.” And this album is currently playing on First Listen at NPR Music. This is the feature where you can hear the entire album just before it’s released. It’s going to be at our website through Thursday. And if you do stream it and you want some guidance for what you’re hearing, we have just the man for that job. Felix Contreras is host of the Alt. Latino podcast. And he’s with me in the studio. Hey, Felix.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hey. What’s happening?

GREENE: OK. So. Beatles song – beyond taking a Beatles song and putting it in Spanish, what else is happening here?

CONTRERAS: They played it as a bolero. OK. And a bolero is originally from Cuba. But it’s, like, universal all over Latin America. Now imagine, like, a slow blues – right? – the passion, the energy, the intensity of a slow blues. That’s a bolero.

GREENE: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG “BECAUSE”)

GRUPO FANTASMA: (Singing in Spanish).

GREENE: Well – and you’ve been following this band for a while. This is their fifth album. Are you hearing something different and new here?

CONTRERAS: I’m feeling them becoming a lot more comfortable with who they are. They’re genre busting or genre bending, right? They’re doing Latin and funk and mixing it altogether. It was sort of new. It was experimental. But now, as they’ve been going along, they’re really settled into this whole thing. And it’s very second nature for them. It’s very organic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “CAYUCO”)

GRUPO FANTASMA: (Singing in Spanish).

GREENE: Well, for people who it’s not second nature to, who are just hearing them for the first time, what is the mix of styles that they’re really bringing here?

CONTRERAS: There’s straight ahead salsa. There’s cumbia, Tex-Mex, accordion music, you know? Basically, dance floor hits, dance floor boogies of different styles and genres.

GREENE: Dance floor boogies. I like that. Is there another track on here we should listen to?

CONTRERAS: Yeah. OK. Now we’re going to hear a thing called “Solo Un Sueno.” And it’s a lot more subdued. But there’s a lot of stuff going on. Check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SOLO UN SUENO”)

GRUPO FANTASMA: (Singing in Spanish).

GREENE: Is this like some kind of Latin rap or something?

CONTRERAS: It’s definitely Latin rap. OK. What they’ve done is they’ve played this track in a triplet feel – one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three – which is very common in a lot of Latin folk music. It’s the basis for – like, for example, Cuban sanitaria music. But what they’ve done is they’ve layered the electric guitar, the keyboards. And then they’ve throw in this guy in doing some rap on top in a very syncopated style.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SOLO UN SUENO”)

GRUPO FANTASMA: (Singing in Spanish).

GREENE: So this album, I mean, why would you tell people it’s worth giving a listen?

CONTRERAS: This band is part of a generation of Latin musicians that are ignoring boundaries. And they are part of a vanguard. They are part of a group of musicians – young musicians, pretty much all under 30, that are ignoring genres, ignoring boundaries and reflecting their lives and what’s going on all across the country, all across Latin America really.

GREENE: All right. The album is called, “Problemas.” It’s from the group Grupo Fantasma, and it’s one of the featured albums at NPR Music’s First Listen stream. You can stream it before it’s released. Felix, thanks a lot.

CONTRERAS: Hey, my pleasure.

GREENE: Felix Contreras. He’s host of NPR Music’s Alt. Latino, a weekly podcast about Latin alternative music.

-NPR MUSIC

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