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"Some people think that Mexicans are the only people coming to North Carolina. That is not true. And I would like for people to understand and learn a little bit more about our cultures."

Durham Latino Festival; Grupo Fantasma 

Feel the sound

Durham Latino Festival grows

click to enlarge Carnavalito
  • Carnavalito

In her native Puerto Rico, Rosalie Bocelli-Hernández grew up calling kites "cometas." When she started working for Durham City Parks and Recreation, she was surprised that other Latin Americans have at least 10 different words for kite: "Papalote, chiringa, cometa ... I have a list. That was so funny," says Bocelli-Hernández.

This experience of linguistic and cultural diversity within their own ranks is common for Latinos, she says. And as she spearheads Durham's 4th annual Latino Festival, she invites Durham residents to learn a lesson in diversity from the city's Latino residents.

"Some people think that Mexicans are the only people coming to North Carolina. That is not true. We have people from El Salvador, Puerto Rico, different backgrounds. We have people with blue and green eyes, and people with African-American background. We're a mix," she says. "And I would like for people to understand and learn a little bit more about our cultures."

The festival is free and open to the public. This year's new location at Forest Hills Park opens new possibilities, according to Bocelli-Hernández, including space to hold a soccer tournament, children's activities, information booths and Latin American food vendors.

"That park is really surrounded by a lot of diversity," Bocelli-Hernández says. Last year's festival attracted 1,500 people, and she hopes for an even bigger turnout this year.

From mariachis to salsa and Latin jazz, local bands like Orquesta GarDel, Mariachi Los Galleros, Carnavalito and The Latin Project will provide the sounds.

The Durham Latino Festival is Saturday, June 14, 3-8 p.m. in Forest Hills Park, 1639 University Drive, Durham. Call 560-4355 for more info.

Funky enough for Prince

click to enlarge Visiting tingle: Austin's Grupo Fantasma
  • Visiting tingle: Austin's Grupo Fantasma

Grupo Fantasma is like James Brown's soul inhabiting the bodies of a band of Day of the Dead mariachis. Indeed, the 10-piece combo out of Austin, Texas, has enough funky bounce to impress Prince. The Paisley One handpicked Fantasma to play Latin Nights at his Vegas club, and they frequently open for him on tour.

"Prince's stamp of approval sends a message," says Jose Galeano, the band's timbalero and back-up vocalist. The Nicaraguan Galeano is a nephew of Chepito Areas, who helped Carlos Santana craft his Latin sound. But while Galeano brings a tip of the sombrero to Caribbean rhythms, the basic building block of Fantasma's sound is rather the loping cumbia beat, reflective of their South Texas heritage.

"Cumbia comes a little more natural to us. Most of us are Mexican-American, from the border," says guitarist Adrian Quesada.

Landmarks on the road to describing Fantasma's sound include fellow border travellers: Los Lobos (in their more rocking horn-based incarnations), Ozomatli (for their funky positivity) and Manu Chao (for his peregrinating sense of possibility). They share the desert sensibility of early Calexico, but are less shy about it, with a blazing brass choir and vocalists you can still hear enunciate over the rattle of timbales. Fantasma's latest release, Sonidos Gold, uses a playful palette, sampling Brazilian and Cuban rhythms, with guitars and sequencers geared toward an out-of-body experience.

"It's ungrammatical, but it means something like solid gold sounds," says Quesada. The Spanglish title also seems to play on sonideros—the Mexican-style street party DJs with ominous, echoey voiceovers. "I feel like we've finally hit our stride, where the band sounds extremely confident," he says.

Featured guests include JB saxophonist and Kinston, N.C., native Maceo Parker, trombonist Greg Boyer of Prince and P-Funk, and pianist Larry Harlow of the Fania All Stars, with a bonus remix by Toy Hernandez, producer of Latin Alternative artists such as Juanes and Control Machete. Quesada says working with those legends "schooled us ... in the importance of carrying the torch." In keeping with that idea, Sonidos Gold bears a cover of Irakere's "Bacalao Con Pan," introducing a new generation to the psychedelic Latin groove classic.

Above all, Grupo Fantasma is definitely a dance band, and any live show of theirs should probably come with a note from the Surgeon General: "Warning: Groove build-up could lead to housequake conditions."

Grupo Fantasma plays Sunday, June 15, at 7 p.m. at The ArtsCenter. Tickets are $22.

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