I first heard Ana Tijoux almost a year ago when I saw her open the “Nacional Records Road Trip featuring Nortec Collective Presents Bostich & Fussible, Los Amigos Invisibles and Ana Tijoux” tour (I know – a mouthful) at the House of Blues. She had recently dropped her first solo effort, 1977, and was on her debut jaunt across North America.
From the moment the diminutive MC took the stage, she owned it. With catchy hooks and a commanding presence, the French-Chilean rapper held the crowd captivated throughout the entirety of her economical set. I remember thinking that the other bands were good that night, but left wishing I could have seen more of Tijoux.
The time has come.
She plays the Casbah on Monday night, this time promoting her latest effort, La Bala.
I recently spoke with the 35-year-old performer from her home in Santiago, Chile, about her new album, the language of music, and her own hip-hop origins.
Scott McDonald: Hi.
Ana Tijoux: Hola.
SM: How are you?
AT: Bien. Very well. Thank you.
SM: You’re coming back to the States very soon. Is this next tour still for La Bala?
AT: Yes. We are continuing to present this album and it’s a part of the same process. We want to keep giving it as much life as possible.
SM: I saw you last time you were in town at the House of Blues. Same band this time around?
AT: More or less. Sometimes we are four, sometimes we are five, and we are even sometimes three. It depends. But it is always between three and five people.
SM: Your first North American tour was in 2010. How has it been to see the music expand so quickly up here, especially given that you’ve enjoyed success outside of the States for some time?
AT: Good. But it’s different. And I don’t like to play the game of which is better. The crowds are so different. By playing music all over the world, you learn a lot about the people in each city. And in North America, it is so different from city to city. Some externalize the emotion much more, and some are much more shy. But, to me, that’s the magic of touring.
SM: Mi español es muy mal. But I still love the music because of the emotion and vibe of it.
AT: Thank you.
SM: And there were plenty of people like me at that last show you did in San Diego. Is it strange to perform for people that you know can’t understand all of your lyrics?
AT: I’ve been looking at that situation and think it’s very interesting. I’ve said it before, but people tell me all the time that they don’t know what I’m singing, but they like it. And I look at how it goes in the South, and how we consume so much American music where we don’t know what they are saying, but we still love to go to the concerts. I think it’s more impactful for you. For me, it’s very normal. So many people listen to North American music without understanding English at all. People will listen to Snoop Dogg without knowing what he’s rapping, and this is a similar situation. But the big music industries are where you live. So, perhaps, that’s why it’s more bizarre for you than it is for us.
SM: French is your first language. Do you ever think you’ll use it in your music?
AT: That’s something where I’d never say “no.” I live in South America and we all speak Spanish. And I like to speak for my people. Buy why not? I’m not opposed at all. You can take any road in life. The purpose is to be free -- in the music, in the message, in the language. Music has to be free. To me, that’s most important.
SM: I’ve always loved music in different languages, no matter what it was.
AT: Me too. I can understand nothing and still love it. I think that is the magic of music. It is the universal language. But everyone’s vision is different. I love when someone tells me “I like this,” and then someone tells me something totally contrary. It is the perfect moment when the music is free and the interpretation is also. This is the best way for a creator to feel like “this is not my album anymore.” But I say that with a lot of love. It’s like when a baby begins to walk. It’s not my baby anymore. And in a certain way, then it’s free.
SM: Tell me a bit about 2007’s Kaos. It sounds so different from any of your other music.
AT: It was very specific. At that point in my life, in every sense, everything was going wrong. There were problems with some music people in Chile. I made an album and they decided to make it not go out. I took a job with a cartoon and it was successful, but it was taken out of my hands. I was very frustrated. Everything was going wrong, in so many ways. But I need to live and give food to my kid, so I made Kaos in two months and it was the same as the title. My life was in chaos. But if people don’t understand the sound, it was a way to resolve things economically speaking. I needed to eat and I resolved the problem. And that’s why I love that album.
SM: La Bala feels different to me than 1977. How different was the process for you?
AT: When I made 1977, I never thought anyone was going to listen to it. I made it in a very genuine form. For me, I just wanted to make a hip-hop album that was very simple, with no big expectations. And to the contrary, everything happened for me, even though I came from so far away. So it was very important that when I made La Bala that there was no formula. I wanted to make a logical continuation of 1977, but I also wanted to make a break from it and to make a change. The first change I made was producers, and the next was to get more organic instruments to use. I didn’t want samples. I wanted violins, violas, Tubas, whatever.
SM: Hip-hop culture is worldwide now. Do you remember the first time it came into your life?
AT: Totally. I was in France, maybe when I was 10 or something, and I saw Do the Right Thing. I heard “Fight The Power” with Public Enemy and I said, "YES!" I don’t know how exactly how to say, but it was like, "this is the s--t." I remember having that feeling like hip-hop is universal. It was like a new kingdom for anyone from the outside. And you could find it in Chile, Ghana, Brazil, Thailand, whatever. It was like when punk appeared. It was a big wave of energy from an unknown society of young people. It’s the voice of the people who do not have a voice. That’s why I love that in hip-hop you can mix poetry, be super angry, feel strong, and fit any emotion in it. I remember that first moment very well. I said, "This is it. This is what I love. This is what I want to do."