Listen to “Mueve Mueve”
Miami’s masters of Pan-Latin hybrid sounds “Locos por Juana” know that music can heal. “In our world, music is about making you feel good. People are always trying to find ways to feel better, but you can do it all through music,” explains singer Itawe Correa. “For so many people, it’s the cure; music that says something, that helps you go home and make a change.”
For LPJ, that music has flowed from many sources. This time, on their latest Rock the Moon Productions release, Caribe: June 17, 2016, the GRAMMY- and Latin GRAMMY-nominated band traces the music back to the Caribbean, connecting their hometown of Miami with everything from soca to champeta–and sending out powerfully upbeat, life-affirming medicine.
Though spanning the seas, the album’s main roots lie in reggae and in its defiant positivity. It was a natural step for the Marley-loving band: “We didn’t sit down and decide we needed to get more reggae, or to sing in English,” guitarist Mark Kondrat notes. “It came naturally. You can’t force things in music, or in life. You have to let the timing be what it is, let things flow out of a really pure place.”
Things flow beautifully, in part thanks to support from Talib Kweli, West African reggae icon Rocky Dawuni, Bermudian reggae star Collie Buddz (“The Cure”), Colombian hip hop crew ChocQuibTown, reggaeton heavyweight Nach (“La Vida”), Boston’s own Dispatch, and Midnite and MC El-B of the Cuban hip hop group Los Aldeanos (“Caribe”).
Locos por Juana will be touring the US, including dates at Reggae on the River and Manifestivus. They are hosting a monthly residency at Wynwood Yard in Miami.It’s hard to imagine Locos por Juana coming from anywhere else in the U.S. but Miami, the northernmost Caribbean city. The overlapping cultures sparked a unique sound, one further nurtured by international gatherings like Art Basel and major electronic and Latin festivals. “It’s a beautiful evolution of people and countries coming together. You can feel Latin America, without going there,” recounts Correa.
Locos por Juana was there at the start of this latest, party-friendly but wildly intelligent wave of Miami bands. With their hybrid tendencies, they prompted a seachange in the Latin scene, breaking new ground by putting lesser-known rhythms and styles, many from several of the band members’ homeland of Colombia, into bright contrast with familiar Latin or mainstream sounds. Electronic elements and Afrobeat, the glittering guitar of soukous and the catchiness of soca, pop sheen and rock grit have all found their place in the mix.
Yet the heart that beats behind it all is African. “The music of LPJ will always have an African base, because of the heavy influences and the beauty,” muses Correa. “Our sound is always going to be based in Africa.”
“Sometimes we feel like we’re music historians,” adds Kondrat. “We really love finding the roots of a style. And when you trace back the steps, you get to some really interesting places. You often end up back in Africa. Africa blessed the world with so many amazing rhythms, that heartbeat of life. That’s really strong. We really care about it.” They pay homage to one of their heroes,
One expression of that heartbeat is the laid-back yet powerful pulse of reggae, a musical style that’s run through LPJ’s tracks for the band’s two decade-long existence. Caribe puts the sound front and center, a twist the band never planned. It just happened.
Take “The Cure.” Even before dancehall star Collie Buddz and LPJ decided to collaborate, “we wanted the song to be reggae, with reggae horns, all-in,” smiles Kondrat. “We were on tour in Vermont, in the winter. We were freezing and wanted the Caribbean. Itawe came up with the hook, and it was in English.”
This moment marked a quiet turning point in LPJ history. Caribe features the band’s first bilingual tracks, a move the group is particularly excited about. “Back in our time with a major label, they tried to get us to sing in English. But it felt forced and awkward,” reflects Correa. “Now, I feel like I’ve absorbed so much of the language and culture that there’s a beautiful, English-language side to my experiences, and it’s wonderful to get to represent that American experience worldwide. It’s great to give our English-speaking fans who may not speak Spanish perfectly something they can really get into.”
Whatever the language, people get it and feel the medicine. LPJ wants to get everyone dancing, reveling, and savoring life’s gifts full on. This is the album’s first single “Mueve Mueve”’s simple but highly effective message: “You don’t need to know how to dance. You just need to get up and move your body!” Encourages Correa. Many fans heeded the call, racking up several hundred thousand views on Vevo for the track’s fun debut video in a few short weeks.
The healing magic of the little things, the tiny changes, vibrates throughout Caribe, particularly strongly on revamped jams like “TikTok” and “Se Te Ki Te To,” which promises that it doesn’t take much to make life’s burdens feel lighter. “We’re saying that with only one smile, everything will go away,” Correa says. “People always forget that. It’s such a powerful move when you smile at someone. It’s such a great feeling.” It’s the soul of Caribbean, channeled by Locos por Juana.