Interview: Saul Millan of Vox Urbana

Vox Urbana is a seven-piece bi-national band from Tucson, Arizona that infuses Latin sounds with elements of rock. The band breaks language barriers and stereotypes through their repertoire and distinct grooves, and includes a guitar, keyboard, sax, trombone, bass guitar, congas, and drums played by a diverse roster of musicians. Vox Urbana is a small ensemble of incredible talent who aim to expand their musical horizons and share the stories of others.

The band uses a style of folk music known as corridos to compose songs about the border community. A corrido is a story told in song. The word comes from the Spanish verb “correr,” which means to run, and indicates there will be a running narrative. Corridos are often about oppression, history, and the daily life struggle of those less fortunate. The band has been working on a project called Cumbia Corridos, a musical story-sharing project that tells the stories of immigrants crossing the border and Tucson’s marginalized denizens.

I spoke with Saul Millan, the band’s trombonist, who joined the band about four years ago when he bumped into Enrique “Kiki” Castellanos, the band’s co-founder and guitarist, at a supermarket. This chance meeting catapulted Saul onto an extraordinary journey of personal growth and experience.

The Cumbia Corridos project has helped immigrants tell their stories of struggles and overcoming challenges. How has the project influenced the band’s approach to music, as well as your personal lives?

For the band, this project definitely helped shape the understanding that our music can be a powerful tool. It influences us to write music that carries a message and theme, emulating corridos–the classic Mexican-style of songwriting that includes writing a story. This was the first time I wrote on a concept album and the testimonies redirected my approach on how I composed music.

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Engaging Fairytales as a Millennial

by Tennessee Hill

The best college course I’ve taken thus far is Fairy Tales as Literature with esteemed fairy tale scholar and part-time fairy godmother, Dr. Christine Butterworth-McDermott. Halfway through covering the classics, a classmate remarked that they felt disillusioned by the tales. This shocked me. Were they really expecting Cinderella’s stepsisters to go unpunished, or Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant to live forever, or bread crumb trails to not get eaten by birds? Had they never heard of a jealous stepmother decapitating her child via chest lid à la “The Juniper Tree”?

As a millennial, I’ve seen my peers expect fairy tale figures to fall in real love the first go-around, sans magical spells, and Neighbors Wolves to give Little Reds a break. There’s a naive desire for rabbit holes like carnival rides, to get out when it’s not fun anymore. As young people, we’ve waded for too long in the pool of Disney where everything is lovely and resolves itself. Now, sitting in a classroom being asked to engage with “The Juniper Tree” or Perrault’s “Cinderella,” it feels like a veil has been torn.

The idea embedded in “happily ever after”–that life is changed for the better in a split second, void of consequence or reality–is one that should be laughed off the stage. But when presented with it dressed like an old lady offering to tighten the corset laces of a hidden princess, there’s shock when the princess is left to flounder on the cottage floor, suffocating. Well, Bluebeard looks like the husband type, forget all those missing wives.

Maybe that’s why there’s an ambient sadness when Hansel and Gretel are abandoned by their parents, or Donkeyskin’s father pursues her so. It’s too close to home. Having gone to the pages to find a happy family, friendly creatures, and a predictable trajectory to follow, there can be a bitter feeling of having been tricked out of a good time. To me, that’s all the more reason to dig both heels in and reside in fairy tale literature.

Generations have walked through the forest before, lantern-less and trusting. Millennials: I’m convinced we’re more fortunate than we realize. With fairytales as our guide, we can make it through, too.

Tennessee Hill is a Senior at Stephen F. Austin State University working toward her BFA in Creative Writing. She is an alum of the Sewanee Young Writers Conference, a 2017 AWP Intro Journals Award nominee, and was a finalist for the 2017 Dan Veach Younger Poets Prize. She has work in The Sandy River Review, Jenny Magazine, Kaaterskill Basin, Elke Journal, and forthcoming from Crab Orchard Review.