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An exotic new sound for Locos por Juana: English

.@LocosPorJuana's Mark Kondrat talks about English-language songs on band's new album #Caribe.

For more than 15 years, Locos por Juana has helped define a soundtrack unique to Miami, mixing elements of cumbia, champeta, salsa, soca, reggae and dancehall into a frenzy of fresh rhythms filled with inspiration born of migration and creative exchange.

The band's newest album, "Caribe," set for release on Friday, Oct. 7, is perhaps its most ambitious tribute to the countries that border the Caribbean, with guest artists that include the Afro-Colombian hip-hop trio ChocQuibTown, Latin Grammy-nominated rapper El B from Cuba's Los Aldeanos, reggae star Collie Buddz from Bermuda and Vaughn Benjamin of the St. Croix-based roots-reggae band Midnite.

But the band's fifth album, released by the boutique Miami label Rock the Moon Productions, also explores another aspect of the Caribbean that for the musicians, and their fans, may be even more exotic: songs written and performed in English.

While the band has done songs with English lyrics in concert, "Caribe" includes the first bilingual songs that Locos por Juana has recorded, including one, "Summertime," performed entirely in English. If this is a turning point in LPJ history, it's one that has come at the right time and for the right reasons, guitarist Mark Kondrat says.

"Well, you know, we live here. We live in Miami," Kondrat says, laughing. "All of us spoke Spanish first, but we now have families and we have friends that are not just Latino, they're also American. [Colombian-born vocalist and lyricist] Itawe, he thinks more in English now. I guess what has changed is that we're thinking in that language now."

Led by Itawe, drummer Javier Delgado and Kondrat, born and raised in Miami by his Colombian mother and Ukranian father, Locos por Juana has more than a dozen regulars. They now include the band's first non-Latin members: bass and mandolin player David Pransky, from Vermont, and trombonist Sam Savage, who came to Miami from Virginia.

Locos por Juana will play a free record-release party for "Caribe" on Oct. 20 at Gramps in Miami, after an Oct. 15 performance for their other major fan base in New York.

The first bilingual song written for "Caribe" was "The Cure," a swaggering, horn-centric blast with vocals from Collie Buddz that was written in the chill of Vermont. Kondrat's music came first, and Itagui provided the lyrics.

"I don't know if we were missing Miami, or just missing being closer to the Caribbean," Kondrat recalls, "because we were up in the mountains — it was not winter, but it was cold, for us — and Itagui just came up with these lyrics, and this hook, and it was in English. It just came out like that, very naturally."

"Summertime," co-written by Kondrat and Itawe, weaves pop, rock and reggae into a familiar surf-party brew that would be right at home played before a Kenny Chesney concert.

"I grew up listening to a lot of rock in the '90s," Kondrat says. "I have older brothers, and when I was in middle school they would listen to a lot of Sublime, a lot of different bands that I listen to still."

Perhaps the bilingual song that may prove most popular is "For the Ladies," a swinging piece of jazzy, urban funk that includes dueling vocals from Itawe in Spanish and New York hip-hop star Talib Kweli. Kondrat says the union was a function of LPJ's new relationship with Rock the Moon, which had a connection with Kweli's management.

"You know, since high school I've been rocking Talib and Black Star and Mos Def," Kondrat says. "We were just blown away at the opportunity. With an artist like that, it really depends on whether he's feeling the track or not. We sent him our track … and he did his track and sent it back right away. It was just, like, perfect. There was nothing that needed to be done. It's just a great song. We're really excited."

Locos por Juana will perform 8 p.m. Oct 20 at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., in Miami. Admission is free. Call 305- 699-2669 or go to Gramps.com.

bcrandell@southflorida.com

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