Futuro Conjunto Chats About the Present Influencing Their Solar-Punk Future

Futuro Conjunto takes you into the future, where “humans, machines, and everyone in-between” are gathered at a concert in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas (RGV) to celebrate “artivism“—that’s when art and activism are infused as one. The album is more than just tracks and melodies, it’s basically a book-on-tapes sharing the fan-footage from that concert in 2120.

Fully included are narrations, fictional bands performing “live,” and even an outlining story of a person even further into the future listening to the found footage.

In reality, Futuro Conjunto is a project revolving on bringing attention to not only the issues going on in the RGV, but also to shine a light on its beautiful culture and history. Though there are many contributing artists, Futuro Conjunto is primarily the project of Charlie Vela, a cultural historian and record producer in the RGV, and Jonathan Leal, an RGV-native, a musician, and a graduate from Stanford with a PhD in interdisciplinary humanities.

We chat what the duo about how the present has greatly influenced their project about the future. Listen to Futuro Conjunto’s album and read the entire interview with Vela and Leal below.

BTRtoday (BTR): What were some of the inspirations behind creating a project like Futuro Conjunto?

Futuro Conjunto (FC): Oh, there were so many inspirations. QTBIPOC speculative fiction, conjunto music (corridos, especially), Rio Grande Valley’s (RGV) border histories, underground cultures, social justice movements. What began as anxiety [with questions like], in the future, what disasters will befall this region we love? Eventually, became grounded optimism in such a future [asking], how will people come together? How will centuries of regional resilience manifest itself? How will future musicians sing of those events still to come? What kinds of worlds will future artivists create?

BTR: What do you hope your listeners will get out of this music?

FC: We hope people enjoy the journey of the record. There are tons of layers to play with at all levels—within each song, across the songs and skits, across the recorded album, in-universe extras, and interactive website. By design, everything is built to provide some delight on a first encounter as well as reward deeper dives. We hope that, for people who have never heard of the RGV, this all serves as an entry point, an invitation to learn more about a region and its people who have in many ways been at the center of “the Américan project,” if you will, and not its periphery. For people who have deep connections to the RGV, we hope all aspects of the work—music, visual art, animation, website, artifacts, and more—reflect at least some of the region’s richness in a fun and empowering way.

We’ve inherited a world in which it’s somehow radical for QTBIPOC folks to project themselves into the future. With this work, we came together to extend this thinking regionally.

BTR: If this project had a one-liner life motto, what would it be?

FC: ¡Aquí estamos y no nos vamos! [English translation: “Here we are and we’re not leaving!”]

BTR: Has the state of the world in 2020 (the pandemic, protests, etc.) affected your creativity flow in any way?

FC: Yes, how could it not? We first conceived of this project in late 2018; wrote and recorded the bulk of it in 2019; finished mixing and assembling remotely during the shelter-in-place period of Spring 2020; and released it on July 1 of this year, in the midst of the global George Floyd and BLM protests—a short time before the pandemic’s devastating Texas surge and Hurricane Hanna’s RGV landfall. So, much transpired on regional and national scales during that stretch of time. A lot of our anxieties about what might plausibly happen in the RGV, given everything in the air, were funneled into the project itself. Working on it, especially during this dumpster-fire year, kept us focused on what remains in our control and kept us creative about staying connected and imaginative.

BTR: Tell me more about this recent album. I love the futuristic tale behind it. Could you elaborate on that?

FC: Sure! There are two layers here. The first layer: in the project, the album itself—what you hear when you visit the Bandcamp page—is, fictionally speaking, a damaged bootleg recording of a concert that takes place in one hundred years, in a by-then abandoned rocket storage facility in Boca Chica (today, part of Brownsville). Six fictional bands perform, each singing songs inspired by the heroes and tragedies upon which their world has been built. All the while, uncertainty hangs in the air: The Treaty of Unbinding Illusion is about to be signed, bringing an end to the Second Mexican–American War, and no one knows what comes next.

Now, the second layer. Framing that story about the concert is another fiction. (Think nesting dolls or The Princess Bride). That frame story follows a quiet listener’s visit to a Library of Public Memories (El Centro Conmatizque) in search of family history and local knowledge. It imagines life in a post-national, “solarpunk” zone known as Rio Cristal in the distant twenty-third century.

Through these two interlocking story layers, as well as through all of the additional in-universe material, one of the major points of the project emerges: individuals’ and communities’ pasts, presents, and futures have everything to do with one another.

BTR: What should we keep an eye out for in the future of Futuro Conjunto?

FC: We’ve got a few things planned for the future—be sure to follow the project Instagram and Twitter pages for more—but for now, we’re just trying to support artists and activists in the region who are doing important organizational work to help vulnerable folks in the RGV. Check out the RGV Mutual Aid Fund for one great example.