“What’s up, New York?!!” screamed Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux at Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge during her first US tour last earlier this month. “I’ve always wanted to say ‘What’s Up, New York?’” she told the crowd, a wide smile across her face.
Tijoux had been waiting a long time for that moment, and now is her moment. Her whirlwind string of performances (more than a dozen dates in 30 days) to support her new solo album, 1977 (Nacional Records), kicked off at SXSW in Austin and took her to more than 10 cities in the US and Canada. No doubt, an ambitious tour for a Spanish-language female rapper barely known here. But Tijoux’s easy flow, sharp verbal skills and confidence clearly appeal beyond language and genres.
In this new album (her second, after 2007’s Kaos), named after the year she was born, Tijoux invokes that liberating feeling she first felt during her early idyll with hip, when it became a necessity for her to transmit her thoughts and experiences into spoken word. “My relationship with music has always been by chance” she says over the phone from her home in Santiago, a few weeks after returning from the US. “I didn’t say ‘this is what I’m going to do.’ I’ve always liked to rhyme and hip hop was the exact middle ground between music and poetry.”
Like a modern-day Proust, on 1977 the 32-year old dips into her early influences such as Wu Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers and A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauder as well as her personal history growing up in France as the daughter of Chilean political exiles, returning to the motherland when she was just 17, her young mind still molding. Produced by Tijoux’s longtime collaborators Foex and Hortadoj, 1977 is straightforward, honest hip hop with jazz undertones, told in Tijoux’s husky, but precise, smart verbal delivery. Among the features on the album is a track with Detroit MC Invincible, whom she contacted via MySpace and met for the first time during a SXSW performance last month.
Tijoux was born Anamaria Merino in Lille (north of Paris), and like many children of immigrants in France at the time, Tijoux started listening to American hip hop barely in her teens. At the same time, her parents introduced her to political Chilean folk music that resisted Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. In fact, she considers folk singers Victor Jara and Violeta Parra as much rappers and influencers as Jeru The Damaga, Pete Rock and J Dilla. When she moved to Santiago, an identity crisis—cultural, political, generational—ensued, and she found in hop hop the right vehicle to express herself. “There were many of us, kids who came from Sweden, Venezuela, Argentina…they call us “los Retornados” [“those who return”], and we were about that quest for an identity” she says. In 1997, Tijoux joined Makiza, which became one of the most important hip hop groups in Latin America and whose 1999 hit “La Rosa de los Vientos” became an emblem of a post-dictatorship, global generation.
For a small country, Chile has a vibrant hip hop scene. Every summer for the past few years, Tijoux’s DJ has organized a J Dilla tribute, where more than 500 people congregate to listen to Dilla joints all night long. During her tour, which was also her first time ever in the US, Tijoux made a stop at J Dilla’s grave in Los Angeles to pay her respects. Not only that, but Tijoux had the opportunity to have breakfast at Ma Dukes’ house in Detroit. “In Chile we’ve followed the Detroit school for a long time. She’s a wonderful woman,” she says of J Dilla’s mother. “It sounds weird to say but after talking to her, I was able to understand Dilla better.”
During her tour, Tijoux was received warmly, not just by Latinos but by audiences of all backgrounds. More than a Latina MC, Tijoux is a prime example of a 21st transcultural rapper shaped by politics and global massive culture, which she is in turn shaping. On 1977, she raps just as tight in Spanish as in French, and judging by the ease with which she addressed audiences here, she could no doubt rap in English too.
Next for Tijoux? Another visit to the US in July, and starting to gather ideas for her next album. For now, she’s back at home in Santiago “clearing my head and my things” and wants to learn some piano. Although, she says, “I’m much more self-taught, I like that instinctual feeling of having a musical perception, of playing something because you feel it. I’m really attracted to that.”
Words by contributor Nuria Net. Nuria is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Latino culture guide Remezcla.com.