"About 40 minutes from where we're from in Bogotá, there is a salt mine," singer Juliana Ronderos says. "The workers in the mine would build shrines to pray at since their job was so dangerous. They built a cathedral made completely of salt, and they dedicated the area to it moving the mine away."
That, she says, is how her electro-pop duo came to be known as Salt Cathedral.
The name connects Ronderos and bandmate Nico Losada to their hometown. But the funny thing is, even though they grew up ten blocks from each other in Colombia, the two didn't know each other until they both coincidentally attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. They quickly bonded over the way Colombians listen to music, which contrasts with the American way. "Colombians listen to music first with their bodies and then intellectually," she says. "We never realized this was different in other cultures until we came here."
After being members of a larger band, they wanted to have more control over their music. So they formed the duo in 2013. "We didn't have a clue what it would be at first," Losada says. "It was experimental." They quickly released a self-titled EP, followed by another in 2014, titled Oom Velt. Both feature sultry vocals over diverse beats that fans of Phantogram can appreciate.
On their debut full-length, Big Waves/Small Waves, which they hope to release in early 2018, they explore reggae influences, helped in part by some big-name guests. "The DP [director of photography] of our video connected us to Assassin. It took months for that to work out. Then we reached out to Lee "Scratch" Perry's wife, and she said he was a fan of our music, which was amazing because the man is a legend," Ronderos says. Because Assassin was in Jamaica and Perry was in Switzerland, Salt Cathedral didn't get to make music in the same room with those artists, but things got more local with the duo's third superstar collaborator. "We live in Brooklyn, and so does Matisyahu. We connected, and he said, 'Let's get in the studio.' So that one was able to happen fast."
Though the two bandmates have never played Miami before, they are making up for that omission with two upcoming concerts. They will appear for a free show at Gramps October 21 and return for the House of Creatives Music Festival in November. "Every Colombian's first trip to the U.S. is to Miami. They go there and to Disney World and Busch Gardens," Losada says.
Ronderos quickly confirms she made the same trip as a kid. "But this will be the first time to Miami as adults," she says. "Every Colombian has an aunt or an uncle in Miami, so we'll have family from all over coming to the show, from Weston, from Boca Raton."
Ronderos says their live show is worth checking out even if you're not related to them. "It's only the two of us onstage. Nico plays his guitar with those West African and Jamaican rhythms. I sing and work the trigger sampler," she says. "We have a great light show, so it becomes an immersive experience. We go full on. We start out slow and get you hypnotized; then things get dance-y. By the end, we want people losing it."
Salt Cathedral. 8 p.m. Saturday, October 21, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; gramps.com; 305-699-2669. Admission is free with RSVP via seetickets.us.