Was Tito Puente the first Latin funk pioneer? The bandleader behind many driving albums blending Latin traditions with swinging jazz would have been hard-pressed to say yes — funk wasn't yet invented. But by the 1970s, there were no doubt about the groundbreaking intentions of the Fania Allstars. Move forward to 2000, and Grupo Fantasma arrives to take the concept to a whole new level. Formed in Austin, the 11-piece orchestra of mostly Latin American musicians begins with salsa and cumbia — traditional Latin styles — as a jumping-off place for wild excursions that mind-meld funk, fusion, jazz, reggae, rock, blues, soul, and virtually any genre within arm's reach into an amazingly cohesive sound. So much so that Grupo's 2010 album, El Existential, hauled in a Grammy Award for best Latin Rock or Alternative album. Many of their songs grace film and television soundtracks, further highlighting the music's broad appeal. Bonus cred: The artist known again as Prince has used Grupo as his backing band. Why? Because it is in concert where the band — complete with dueling guitars, bottom-end bass, full percussion, and a monster horn section — shines brightest, laying down heavy rhythms, scintillating beats, and monstrous grooves.
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