¡Zas!. MUNDO. La Mosca No Muere. These are just a few of the fictional bands that make up the music of Futuro Conjunto.
Futuro Conjunto is the second collaboration project between music producer and filmmaker Charlie Vela and USC Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow Jonathan Leal, PhD. In 2018, the duo first worked together on Wild Tongues, an album with various artists instructed by Vela and Leal to write a song about being from the Rio Grande Valley.
“A lot of the same artists are also on this record as well,” Vela said. “These are just people from the music community.”
An original work of speculative, transmedia they term Chicanx fiction, Futuro Conjunto was a cross-country collaboration between the duo as Vela works in Texas and Leal in California.
“Personally, this is a very meaningful project to work on with Charlie and with everybody involved because I don’t live in the Valley anymore, but all my family still lives in the Valley and I go back multiple times a year,” Leal said. “I haven’t been able to go back yet this year because of COVID, but working on this project has helped me feel like I’ve been at home and listening to it helps me feel like I’m at home.”
Funded by a Community Engagement Grant from Stanford University, Futuro Conjunto is true to its theme as Vela and Leal collaborated with more than 30 independent artists and activists from the Valley to bring to life the fictional world of Rio Cristal in the year 2270.
“What it amounted to was making a movie without filming anything,” Vela said. “[We were] trying to film a movie experience, but just with sounds.”
The idea for Futuro Conjunto was first discussed around the early months of 2019, shortly after the release of Wild Tongues, as Leal and Vela periodically had conversations about the music scene in the Valley.
Vela is the co-director of “As I Walk Through The Valley,” a documentary exploring the history of the music scene in South Texas.
Then, Leal taught a class at Stanford University with Professor Paula Moya called “After The Apocalypse.” This is for students who don’t normally take creative writing classes, such as science and computer science majors, and consume speculative and science fiction novels because by the end of the course, students will be expected to create their own post-apocalyptic world and present it to the class.
Vela took the premise of the course, according to Leal, and said they should bring it to the Valley and make it specific to the local culture.
“When we decided we wanted to do it, some of the questions we started with were, ‘OK, if we’re going to imagine a post-apocalyptic, RGV speculative fiction story, we need to answer some questions for ourselves,'” Leal said. “Like, ‘What are the catastrophes that happen in the future?’ first of all.”
Through a visual timeline, The Flickering Century chronologically tells the story through original, multimedia of what historically happened in between the actual reality of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, and the fictional, distant future of 2270.
To name a few, some of the fictional events that have taken place are: 2033’s Hermes IV Mission Launch (RGV native Marcos Miranda, who was in charge of ferrying passengers, died tragically in his return), 2043’s The New Sentience (research breakthroughs paved for artificial intelligence adoption), and 2076’s Hurricane Narciso (A destructive landfall in the Rio Grande Valley. Catastrophic, the event recarved the geography of South Texas).
Several of the themes surrounding the events in the world of Futuro Conjunto are environmental calamity, social upheaval and technological advancement.
“Once we [decided] on those, then we can say ‘OK, well then, how does society reorganize itself around those environmental calamities and what not, because people persist, right?” Leal explained. “People find ways of not only coming together, but reimagining and rebuilding after things have happened.”
With the challenge of storytelling, Vela and Leal faced another challenge: imagining the retrospective musical component to Futuro Conjunto.
The album is built off of conjunto, specifically “el corrido,” the collaborators explained. When imagining the musical component, Leal recalled the process of writing was going back and forth between the storytelling and musical levels in order to try and fill it out the world completely.
“‘OK, you have these fictional events that have occurred in the future and then you have these singers and musicians in an even more distant future who are singing about those events,’” Leal said when remembering the process. “‘So then, what does that music sound like?’”
Vela added how Rune Longoria’s character, the Center’s Holohedral Archive and Translation Attendant (C.H.A.T.A.), was like a balance between the storytelling and the music. In addition to being a character of Futuro Conjunto, C.H.A.T.A. is also the voice used to explain the historical references within the world of the album, Vela said, like Wikipedia entries.
“To make sure everything was in agreement, we could look back on the record and look back at all the other stuff we’ve done and make sure that… OK, any gaps… we can fill them with this and make sure that it all feels cohesive narratively.”
Set in the first weekend of February 2120, Futuro Conjunto was a concert that took place at the rocket facility in New Boca and had a lineup of distinct, unique musicians: XXochitl, La Mosca No Muerde, Simonada, ¡Zas!, and CODEX.
Vela and Leal created fictional music genres such as “palmwave” and “pennypunk.” From stretching an accordion into an ambient soundscape to combining early 2000s emo with huapango, the music of Futuro Conjunto mashed together different genres while also representing the familiar Valley music scene only residents would recognize.
“Because the characters live in a world [that has] experienced all this musical history that we haven’t yet, a lot of genres will be mashed together and cross-pollinated” Vela said. “People are influenced by bands that come before them, so they take a little piece of what inspires them and [mix] it in with some other stuff.”
Shown particularly through ¡Zas!, Vela explained how bands that ride around and play popular hit music in restaurants like Rex’s Cafe is something familiar to people from the Valley.
“I’ve never seen that character in something before and it was cool,” Vela said. “”They would be playing your grandma’s favorite music, which is the contemporary music of today.”
However, even if someone isn’t from the Valley, Futuro Conjunto was created for everyone to enjoy the music on a surface level — while also rewarding Valley residents with references specific to the region.
“It’s the idea of trying to design and create something that would be very enjoyable and affecting on a first listen, but also would reward many different listens because you would always find something new in there, some new detail, some new event to pay attention to,” Leal said. “To hear those references and to feel the positive gratification of going back and listening to something, hearing that detail and knowing what it was and knowing that it was something specific to the Valley. I think that was something that we really wanted to share with folks.”
Taking it further, Vela and Leal truly mean it when they say Futuro Conjunto was created for everyone; the album is free to stream on their Bandcamp.
“This is a project that is supposed to be for everybody and we didn’t necessarily want to make it cost prohibitive for anybody,” Leal said. “One of the deeper reasons for that is thematically because the album is about imagining the future and that future being one of resilience and people coming together and finding community with one another in uncertain times, very much like our own right now.”
Bandcamp is a company that allows artists and labels to upload their music to its online website and control their own prices and merchandise. For Futuro Conjunto, in addition to being free, the album is also available to purchase for one dollar.
The reason for this is because some individuals not only pay for the album, but also contribute more than the asking price. However, every dollar made from Futuro Conjunto is donated and distributed to three organizations: The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES Texas), Casa Kimberly (GENtex) and Black Lives Matter.
“They’re all trying to make the future better for people,” Vela explained when asked why they decided to donate all proceeds to the specific organizations.
“Whoever goes to it, goes to Futuro Conjunto, comes away from it with a sense of their own agency in the world, especially people from the Valley,” Leal said. “A sense that they have a say in their imagining of the future, they have a say in what their future can look like and the future is not something that is simply forced upon any of us, even though it may feel that way.”
It’s important to have things the Valley residents could point to that are theirs, Vela added, as he hopes Futuro Conjunto could serve as a jumping off point to open the discourse of why there aren’t more things for people from the Valley.
By serving as a jumping off point for the conversation of representation, the duo hope someone who experiences Futuro Conjunto will take it upon themselves to create and fill the real world with more things about the RGV.
“That really gets down to the philosophical theme of the title itself, right? It’s like, ‘Yeah, you have conjunto music, which is a really important part of the genes of the project,’ Leal explained. “But it’s also literally like a future together, like a future community. I hope that anybody who listens to it comes away from it with that sense.”
To listen to just the album of Futuro Conjunto, visit https://futuroconjunto.bandcamp.com/ or to experience the visual and detailed world of Futuro Conjunto, visit https://futuroconjunto.com/