Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux makes her Los Angeles debut tonight
When the great earthquake of 2010 roared through Santiago last month, hip-hop artist Ana Tijoux was performing at a club. She had made it through three songs when the walls around her began to tremble.
Then the lights went out. Fortunately, no one inside was hurt, but "it was a little strange," Tijoux said, speaking by phone last week from Austin, Texas, where she was making her North American tour debut at the South by Southwest music festival.
As one of South America’s best-regarded young MCs, male or female, the prodigiously loquacious Tijoux is seldom at a loss for words. Formerly the frontwoman for the socially clued-in hip-hop outfit Makiza, she has developed a growing following with her jazz-inflected, unusually melodic rapping and witty, politically savvy lyrics.
But in the weeks since the devastating temblor, Tijoux hasn’t been moved to set down any of her thoughts about the traumatic event in song, especially while Chile continues to be rattled by seismic aftershocks.
"It has inspired fear more than inspiration," said the artist, who will perform in Los Angeles for the first time tonight at Little Temple.
Salvaging inspiration from life’s strange rumblings is, of course, part of an MC’s job description. Tijoux fulfills that obligation impressively with her debut album, "1977," which has just been released by North Hollywood-based Nacional Records.
The title refers to the year of Tijoux’s birth, when her parents were living in exile in Paris. Like other left-leaning former students, they’d been forced to flee Chile after the right-wing Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected Salvador Allende in a military coup on Sept. 11, 1973. In the years that followed, Pinochet carried out a brutal campaign to imprison and execute political opponents.
"When I was a child, Chile was always a subject around the dinner table," Tijoux said. "It killed a generation in Chile, so it affected everyone."
Several of her album’s song titles suggest themes of struggle and conflict: "Obstáculo" (Obstacle), "Crisis de un MC" (Crisis of an MC), "Problema de 2" (Problem of 2).
But in fact, Tijoux said, her youth in France was "the most incredible" experience.
Her playmates included the children of many other political refugees, from Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Palestine and elsewhere. Her father worked as a truck driver, and she often accompanied him on cross-continental European odysseys, giving her a wide exposure to different languages and cultures.
Her mother was a social worker, and when Tijoux went with her into the streets of Paris, she heard a multitude of different voices and music, including one particular style that spoke in the urgent cadences of the urban immigrants themselves.
"All the children in the street listened to hip-hop," she said.
When her family returned to Chile in 1993, it was like finding a new world full of rich possibilities for making art.
"There I discovered a country with a great story," said Tijoux, who has been nominated by the MTV Latin America VMAs as "best new artist" and "best urban artist." While studying literature in school, she began immersing herself in Santiago’s inchoate hip-hop underground. The art form, she said, "seemed like a platform to talk about all kinds of things" in a way that was cathartic.
Tijoux is one of those rare rappers who actually can carry a tune as gracefully as she can craft a lyric. Her singing abilities have caused her to be recruited to perform on tracks with the Argentine electronic-tango-alternative group Bajofondo, and to pair up with Mexican rocker Julieta Venegas on her hit song "Eres Para Mi."
Tijoux expresses reverence for what she calls the "golden age" of rap, exemplified by albums such as Wu-Tang Clan’s "36" and A Tribe Called Quest’s "Midnight Marauder." And she makes no bones about her distaste for the braggadocious, jewel-encrusted, pistol-packing, penthouse-strutting rap that came to dominate the airwaves in the late 1990s.
"Bling makes me laugh, because we don’t see it in Chile," she said. "Hip-hop was born as an art of daring, celebrating, struggling."
-- Reed Johnson
Photo: Ana Tijoux. Credit: Nacional Records
Ana Tijoux, Tuesday night at The Little Temple, 4519 Santa Monica Blvd. 11 p.m. $12. Tijoux will also perform a short set on Wednesday, March 24 at La Cita, 1558 Sunset Blvd., as part of “Mucho Wednesdays.” 11:30 p.m. $5.