Since releasing his last album, Loco De Amor, in 2014, Colombian superstar Juanes has hardly sat still. He's undertaken extensive touring, film soundtrack work and high-profile concert appearances around the world — including the Grammys, a John Lennon tribute, a concert for the Pope and, for the third time, the Nobel Peace Prize concert.
After all that, he "chilled out" by writing a series of songs that he then turned into a stunning sci-fi themed visual album. The album and the film are both called Mis Planes Son Amarte ("My Plans Are To Love You") and are the work of a man on a mission, both personally and artistically.
In the visual album, Juanes is an archaeologist and astronaut, the lead character in a story about a search for eternal love that symbolizes his own journey of self-discovery. The film depicts dreams and time travel through a blend of gorgeous cinematography and animations, set to songs that echo Juanes' early musical style. It also draws heavily on indigenous philosophy and the metaphysical, and the sequence of the songs creates the narrative for the film. This is where Juanes takes his artistry to the moon.
The production process — two years in the making — was an adventure in and of itself, through parts of Mexico and Colombia. "The film doesn't [subscribe] to trends or coolness; it is entertainment designed to connect in a much deeper way and also represent Juanes' art and passions," says film director Kacho López Mari, who collaborated with him on the concept.
Juanes says the visual album is a very personal statement at an important time. He sees it as the culmination of his entire career, after "a lot of difficult experiences in my personal life and also a lot of victories." Throughout the film, he injects wisdom gained from his own inner journey, and speaks to "the connection between our most ancestral, indigenous roots and the universe and its planets. Those points are even more closely tied than we can imagine."
Alt.Latino contributor Marisa Arbona-Ruiz spoke to both Juanes and director López about the visual album and Juanes' own newfound spiritual journey — a journey that started while he was gazing up at the stars.
Marisa Arbona-Ruiz: Let's start with that UFO sighting! You were in a hotel room in Geneva, Switzerland five years ago—
Juanes: It was 1 o'clock in the morning, and I was looking at the sky when I saw five big, big lights suspended in the air. At first I thought, "Maybe these are planes that are going to land in the airport." But [then] I realized those lights were static. They started to move to the sides and were totally silent. And after 10 or 15 minutes, I realized that I was looking at something very special from another world. And that day, you know, my basis of education and beliefs started to change. Everything started to change for me. And I started to understand that we're just part of a great, big universe and life is more than we think it is.
Two metaphors in the film that tie together are the need to attain self-love in order to fully express love and find a fulfilling love life, and to let go of what no longer serves you. It's a big lesson for most people. Explain how you did that in the film.
Juanes: When my character, Javier, finds the shaman on the beach, and [what he experiences] when the shaman takes him and gives him the ayahuasca [a hallucinogen] — that was the conceptualization of having to deal with your own demons, your own problems and fears, and coming face-to-face with all those things that make you feel like less, or feel afraid.
This album came after years of me trying to find a way to reconnect with music and with myself. I'm not gonna be afraid of anything anymore. I don't want to follow any trends in music. I just wanna [make] music from my heart and my soul — as I did it before. I got disconnected for a while, but I just came back and I feel so happy with this album, to share these songs and all these messages.
The visual album also speaks to the complexities of becoming entrapped in materialism and dysfunctional cycles, reminding us not to forget about what's important, in life and love.
Juanes: Yes, exactly. We live so fast and it's all about those economic pillars of our culture: how much you have and can do, and how you look — and everybody forgets about themselves. We have so many divisions already and the way we're building our society is going against the human side of our consciousness, of our existence.
We need to remember who we were when we were kids. What was the thing that inspired us to be happy? When we grow up, we change with so much information coming to our minds, to our brains, to our souls, to our spirits — and we have to get back to that place. That's something that's really important to me.
In the film you present the need for balance and basics through indigenous philosophy and culture in a way that's simple.
López: It is based on spiritual experiences both from Colombia and Mexico — from ancient civilizations. In the scene of Actitud, the tribal chief tells Javier about the way they connect to earth and "Creation" — to the essentials of life and spirituality. So we went deep into that to bring all those wisdom teachings in a simple way to decipher. And we filmed with members of the Kogi tribe [in Colombia], along with people from a mix of tribes, some refugees from war-torn regions of the Brazilian Amazon.
Juanes: It's hard now seeing how we, as a society, are disrespecting all this traditional indigenous knowledge. We are not respecting even our own planet; we just [run] over all of it, just to have everything, but that's not enough. Like, we have to have more and more and more, and we forget the most important thing, which is to be tolerant and to respect ourselves.
And that leads into another message: that you can be indulgent and explore the whole universe to find your inner calling, but it comes down to opening your mind and your heart.
Juanes: Oh yeah. The only way to understand the universe is to understand our place in it, and our planet, and that we're all interconnected. And there is a big, big universe inside us. We have to give value to life and respect each other and not hurt each other.
Without giving away too much of the film's storyline, we can say that both a talisman and a dog have symbolic roles. What is their significance?
López: The talisman was based on yin-yang duality — understanding that we all have female and masculine parts. We're all connected. And the universe is all connected to that balance.
Juanes: We created that talisman with the idea of the union of the two parts. Very important parts of life, like, each person has one-half part of the talisman as a way to feel connected as a commitment.
The dog is the compañero del shaman [shaman's companion], and is [Javier's] guide through all this journey, always [leading] him to the shaman.
And the dog happened to be a xoloitzcuintli, an ancient breed from Mexico. I love that!
Juanes: We found this dog named Shak who is an actor. It is an original dog from Mexico.
López: That was magical that we found that dog. This xoloitzcuintli was actually a descendant of Frida Kahlo's dog. The [breed] was once thought of as holy. They were domesticated and treated as royalty. Then, people started to eat them to ingest their power. Frida and Diego [Rivera] were partly responsible for preserving them in Mexico. Talk about serendipity! We were like, "holy s***! It looks like it's from another planet." It brought a lot of meaning to the project.
It sounds like serendipity ran throughout the whole project?
Juanes: This project is full of beautiful moments and magical moments. There were times we were in the studio and just a melody came to my mind or some lyrics, and I just had no idea why, and then four hours later we would have that song. It was like something magical that came from an unknown place. And it was the same when we were shooting the film.
When we [cast] the shaman, and when we found this indigenous tribe from Colombia, and we were talking about the land, and the sea and Mother Earth and all these elements that just came to us at that moment. And we thought, "Wow, we have to keep this; this is magical — this is not gonna happen again."
López: The shaman was a real actor, Ángel Garnica. He transmits an energy that is very shamanic — you could feel it. When he comes into the room he does energetic stuff. When we saw him, we just knew he was it [the one we were looking for].
Also, one thing I was scared about was [portraying] the stuff in outer space. We had no resources and had to come up with creative solutions. So we made the interior of the ship out of computer junk — bits and pieces make up the whole inside. It turned out really cool.
How did you like working with each other?
Juanes: The opportunity to be directed by Kacho López was amazing. I was used to doing music videos. This time was like, OK, forget about the guitar, [and] the microphone, and just try to be "Javier," the character ... And also the opportunity to be working with Renato López and Camila Selser and Iazúa Larios — it was inspiring just to see these great actors, and they gave me tips to do it better. And we worked so hard, shooting from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m., like every day for a month. I really loved this experience of being an actor.
López: We clicked creatively. And this was the first time I ever told an artist how to present the order of their songs, you know? He understood that publishing the album in the same order was important. That progression of the songs, going up and down, creates a wave of energy that has a lot to do with the story. The story affected the album the same way the album affected the story — it was reciprocal.
It was important for us that Juanes step up and act. I said, "Come on, I know you can do it, and I'll be there for you." He did a marvelous job. He was humble. Focused, without the glamour of a superstar. He was able to pull off emotion, and control expressions and body language. He can convey a deep look. He also looks good on camera, and has a roughness to him. He can really think about that as a second career if the singing doesn't work out!
And finally, the film touches on the metaphor that everything happens in cycles. Even love and spiritual growth. This is all about the idea of embracing the deeper values of life and love.
Juanes: Yes, definitely for me, life is a miracle. Now I have three kids, and finally I understand the miracle of life and the concept of pure love. And for me that's so important; every day and every second counts. And it's so important just to feel alive and that I can do something for myself and I can do something for somebody else. And just the fact that I can love myself and I can give love to somebody else is fantastic. I feel so recharged with positive energy!