Brownout traffics in Tejano funk
Since 2003, the eight-piece funk band Brownout has been rocking b-boy jams and packing live-music venues with fast-paced funk covers. While Brownout may be a relatively new band on the block, the group’s front men, Adrian Quesada, Beto Martinez, Greg Gonzales, and Johnny Lopez, have been redefining Latin music for years with their orchestra, Grupo Fantasma. The orchestra has dominated music festivals and won countless awards with their funky blend of cumbias, salsa, and merengue. As Brownout, they are looking to rediscover their funkier beginnings.
Quesada, Martinez, Gonzales, and Lopez started their musical journey as a high school funk-rock garage band in the booming border town of Laredo, Texas. Initially, their band was a teenage musical revolt against their parents’ beloved Mexican cumbias and Tejano music. But their immersion into the worlds of Sly Stone, James Brown, and Mandrill would verse them in soulful drum breaks, deep-in-the-pocket guitar riffs, and groovy bass lines, providing the foundation for later incarnations of the band. As the four grew older, they migrated out of the garage, four hours north into Austin’s thriving music scene. Inspired by their parents’ music and their Latino heritage, they formed Grupo Fantasma to explore the cumbia rhythms they rejected as teenagers.
Still searching for the perfect vessel through which to channel their musical inspirations and contain their endless creative energy, Brownout has become the team’s breakbeat-kicking, horn-line-slinging, funkdafied luchador alter ego. The band’s debut album, Homenaje, or “Homage,” is a tribute to the group’s musical gods: an eclectic pantheon including Latin-rock legends Carlos Santana, Chepito Areas, and Malo; trombonist Fred Wesley; Southern Texas Tejano musicians Little Joe and Ruben Ramos; and Afrobeat king Fela Kuti, to name a few. The result is a distinct, homegrown brew of Afro-Latin funkiness filled with backbeat-heavy drum lines, vamped up montunos, fluent guitar solos, and spontaneous horn arrangements. With Homenaje, Brownout has extracted all the best parts of their influences—each track hauntingly familiar, yet distinct in its own style. “Brown Wind and Fire,” the album’s opening track, shows off the group’s more soulful roots; its rolling bass line sets a cool pace, while its eerie guitar—a nod to Santana—dances around the groove. Other tracks—”Homenaje,” “Con El Brownout No Se Juega,” and the Manu Dibango cover of “African Battle”—drive the album and manifest the group’s funky origins.
The Laredo four can be seen these days closing the generational gap, jamming with JB alumnus Maceo Parker, P-Funk arranger Greg Boyer, and Prince at his royal court in Las Vegas. In the tradition of South Texas border rockers, Brownout has elegantly bridged their multiple musical universes.