SXSW 09 Picks 2 Click

A septet of local acts with (inter)national appeal

SXSW 09 Picks 2 Click
Photo by Sandy Carson

Brownout

Latin funk beamed down from the Grupo Fantasma mother ship

Simply put, Brownout is too good to play second saxophone any longer. Since the band's 2004 inception, the eightpiece local funk mob has lived in the shadow of mother ship Grupo Fantasma, which exploded last year with A-list gigs backing Prince and a Grammy nomination for 2008's Sonidos Gold. While Grupo adds hints of R&B to cumbia, salsa, and merengue, Brownout delves deep into heavy grooves with dashes of Latin sabor.

"We haven't ever treated Brownout like a real band; it's always been a side project," explains guitarist and leader of both acts Adrian Quesada. "Compared to the last few years, Grupo's going to take it easy, which still means 100 shows, but we're going to focus a little bit more on Brownout."

That's good news for anyone hooked on Homenaje, Brownout's 2007 debut, which connects the musical dots between Earth, Wind & Fire and Santana, the J.B.'s and Fania Records. Quesada describes the upcoming Águilas y Cobras as a more focused effort. Águila is Spanish for eagle, an obvious nod to the Mexican flag and the ancient city of Tenochtitlán –

"It has nothing to do with that," Quesada interrupts. "This band is a long series of inside jokes. It's another one of those things that makes no sense to anybody but us."

The title remains a mystery, but a sneak peek proves nothing impenetrable about the infectious sides. While Homenaje was largely instrumental, Águilas contains vocal arrangements inspired by everyone from the Temptations to the Beatles. "Con el Cuete" is a brick-house dual pairing of Brownout's signature Latin funk and blistering rock guitars with the chanting of a Spanish warning: Keep your pistola in your pocket.

"It's alluding to what's going on down on the border, and it's scary," Quesada says. "We hear about the violence more and more in the mainstream media, but we actually hear about it directly from our families."

The border runs deep in Brownout, with half the band originally hailing from Laredo, while trombonist Leo Gauna was born a stone's throw from Mexico. In high school, guitarist Beto Martinez, bassist Greg Gonzalez, and drummer Johnny Lopez rocked house parties as the Blimp, later joining forces with Quesada and company in Austin for James Brown-inspired jam sessions.

"It feels good to us because it's like coming full circle with what we originally did," Quesada concludes. "If we hadn't started playing cumbias, we probably wouldn't be here talking about this. It seems like we finally have everyone's attention – I mean we got a fucking Grammy nomination – and now we can show people where it all started."


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