Miami's Locos por Juana premiered its new single, "Don't Tell Me No," last Friday, April 19. The energetic, Grammy-nominated tropical-rock group is joined on the track by the legendary reggae musician and producer Freddie McGregor, the latest high-profile collaboration leading up to the release of the band's forthcoming album.
The song is also a bellwether. Locos por Juana has always dabbled in equal parts cumbia, funk, and reggae, but the bandmates are embracing the music of Jamaica more than ever.
"We're doing a lot of reggae on this new album," guitarist Mark Kondrat says. "It's kind of a tribute to that style and how much it's meant to us as a band."
McGregor is a seminal figure of lovers rock, a style of reggae exemplified by Bob Marley classics "Is This Love" and "Waiting in Vain." Kondrat and Itawe Correa — the band's frontman and bilingual lyricst — are huge fans of McGregor's, so they jumped at the opportunity to work with him in the studio. Bringing outside artists into a songwriting session doesn't always work, Kondrat says, but the collaboration turned out to be effortless: Nearly the whole song came together once they joined up in Studio 26 near Coral Gables.
"Everything flowed so easily," Kondrat says. "He's a great guy to work with, man. He looks so young; he's so full of energy — just a great spirit. And he's a legend, you know? It was cool that he was so down-to-earth. Hopefully, there will be more collabs with him because we really hit it off."
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After McGregor tracked his vocals, he sent the song to another Jamaican legend — composer and saxophonist Dean Fraser, who recorded a part during a separate session. For those listening along, Fraser plays the impeccably smooth sax solo toward the end of the song.
This past February, Locos por Juana released the music video for "Crazy for Jane," the forthcoming album's first single, featuring fellow reggae-rockers Common Kings out of Southern California. "For whatever reason, I think this album is going to be heavy on the reggae rhythms," Kondrat says.
Catch Locos por Juana — voted best Latin band in 2017 by readers of New Times — during Brew at the Zoo Saturday, May 11.