Checking In: Como Las Movies Cumbias Despite Performance Shutdown
“[We] won’t be playing live for a long time to come”
By Raoul Hernandez,
10:10AM, Wed. Aug. 12, 2020
Como Las Movies projectionist Nelson Valente Aguilar minds your children. “I teach 5th grade,” emails the bandleader. “Bilingual. And no, I'm not always smarter than a 5th grader.” Who is anymore, frankly? Maybe his local electro-cumbia quartet, which cranks up a new 7-inch (see tomorrow’s issue) in the face of C-19 clamping down hard on the group.
Austin Chronicle: Where are you sheltering and under what circumstances? Who else is there and how’s that going?
Nelson Valente Aguilar: I’ve been at home here in Austin. My wife Ana Lucía and I have a home on the Eastside. We got married this past November. We kid about how the pandemic has put our marriage to the test – you know, being together 24-7. Happy to report that we both agree getting married was the best decision we’ve ever made.
AC: At what point did C-19 shut down operations for you, and what went down with the ship, so to speak, both personally & professionally?
NVA: Our last public outing was the Austin Music Awards in March. A few days later, SXSW was canceled and the rest of the city began to shut down. Seeing the domino effect of shows getting canceled was gacho rough. I was really looking forward to playing the Blanton Block Party.
Next thing you know, I’m watching Matthew McConaughey on TV showing me how to make a mask using a bandana and a couple of chongos. Around this time my primo hermano (cousin), who is a doctor, was admitted to the hospital with COVID. They put him on a respirator and remained there for a month-and-a-half.
He’s home now and doing better.
I teach here in Austin, and after abruptly being shut down, we scrambled to figure out a way to reconnect with our students. Folks are still trying to figure all that out.
AC: As a global culture, people employ music for every purpose imaginable, obviously spanning religion to entertainment and everything in between. What happens to communities like ours when people can no longer access it in person?
NVA: I just found out that Dive Bar closed. It’s not the first, and won’t be the last. This means folks lose their jobs, and that it’s one less place for people to hang, to network, to get out of the house.
Options to play live now are mostly relegated to pre-recorded performances and live streaming. I would like to do a livestream, but like most artists, Como Las Movies doesn’t have access or funds to do a proper sounding livestream. Lots of resources are required to make it worthwhile for the viewer.
AC: Everyone’s had to shift or drastically alter their work situation. What does that look like for you?
The only people that like change are babies in dirty diapers or so the saying goes. I’ve had to accept the reality that Como Las Movies won’t be playing live for a long time to come, which means the money that is made from shows won’t be available to produce more records. All the folks who provide services – recording studios, photographers, videographers, etc. – to help us put out our product are also feeling the pain. Our ecosystem is in serious trouble.
As a teacher, it’s been a rollercoaster ride and I don’t even like rollercoasters. I get motion sickness. Will teachers be forced to choose between their jobs and health?
For now, remote learning will be the name of the game. My biggest concern is that some students won’t have access to a laptop or Wi-Fi. Thing is there’s plenty of money to ensure that kids have access, pero no lo quieren soltar. [They don’t want to release it.]
AC: What’s your soundtrack for the apocalypse and what role does music play for you as a fan and scholar of it in times of hardship?
NVA: I have fond memories as a child of listening to my jefita (mother) sing along to her favorite songs on the radio or her personal collection while she cleaned the house. Came to realize later that she would lose herself in the music because she found it comforting and soothing. It was a momentary escape from the worries and struggles of having to raise three kids in the [McAllen] barrio all by herself.
I’ve been listening to entire albums as much as possible. Latest albums by Run the Jewels, Holy Wave, Y La Bamba, and older records such as Café Tacvba’s Re, Talking Heads’ ’77 come to mind.
J Cole’s single “Snow on the Bluff” is on repeat. Too bad it got press for being some kind of diss on Noname, whose single “Song 33” is equally captivating. Both songs do a great job of documenting the BLM movement and current protests.
I wish folks would keep their political views out of the movement. I’m not fighting for that. I’m fighting for morality. I’m fighting for a society that ends the marginalization of Women, POC, LGBTQ+, and economically disadvantaged communities.
I’ve always suffered from anxiety and 2020 has not made it easy. Music eases the tension and brings me some balance. I need it now more than ever.
Check out the entire Checking In series.
Kevin Curtin, May 10, 2019
March 1, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024
Como Las Movies, Nelson Valente Aguilar, Ana Lucia, 2019/2020 Austin Music Awards, Blanton Block Party, Dive Bar, Matthew McConaughey, Run the Jewels, Holy Wave, Y La Bamba, Café Tacvba, Talking Heads, J Cole, Noname, Checking In 2020