Around 350 people came to the New Parish in Oakland to see Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux perform on Wednesday along with Raw G, 2 Mex, Hordatoj, Magnolius and DJ Nima Fadavi.
Tijoux, who is petite and in the early stages of pregnancy, swayed to her drummer’s military beat and spit out rhymes with self-assured, low-key confidence. Dressed in a flannel shirt and black tights, her style was more ‘90s b-girl than rising international hip-hop star.
When she performs, her movements are minimal. Tijoux may pump her arms forward or bounce to the beat, but her focus seems rooted on lyrical delivery. Of all the elements that make good hip-hop great–timing, meter, lyrics–Tijoux’s strength is flow. Her raps are long stretches of stream of consciousness rhymes that somehow manage to express protest and nostalgia in the same breath. Tijoux told the audience that she’s naturally very shy, but added that that doesn’t always conflict with performing live. “I think to make music is to be in internal reflection all the time,“ she said. “The important thing is to have the fuerza to say something.”
Tijoux, who has recently given concerts in support of undocumented immigrants in Arizona, is the daughter of Chilean exiles and grew up in France. She became well known in the US for her song “1977,” which has since been featured in an episode of the HBO series Breaking Bad. Tijoux’s music has also been spotlighted on National Public Radio’s Alt.Latino and World Café.
“1977” is ostensibly about the year when Tijoux was born, but she uses the song as an opportunity to mark the beginning of her suffering; as the child of exiles, a Latina living in a European country, and simply as a human being plagued by doubt and uncertainty. She refers to herself as an isolated little girl, holding a teddy bear, taking in lo cotidiano, or every day life. Later she describes her adolescence as a difficult period and concludes, “My big quest wasn’t about showing off, it was something necessary” (Mi busqueda no fue para mi cosa de escenario, Fue algo necesario).
Songs like “Shock” protest economic inequality and ignorant political leaders. “Poison: your monologues,” Tijoux raps. “Your black and white speeches, you don’t see that we aren’t alone, millions from pole to pole!”
In the chorus she repeats “La hora sonó” or the time has come, and it’s clear that she’s calling for revolt against the socio-political status quo. Her message references Chilean high school and university students’ recent massive protests about education access–young people in Chile have been protesting the lack of public universities and high tuition rates for over a year now–as much as broader disillusionment with global capitalism.
For Eileen Santos, a concert-goer at the New Parish show, that tune is on repeat. “I just listen to it and get like really amped up,” she said, “but not in that bad suburban white boy way.”
Tijoux raps almost exclusively in Spanish, but her lyrics seem to transcend cultural boundaries. The audience at the New Parish was diverse, made up of older Latinas, white kids with dreads, queer girls and hip-hop regulars. But when Tijoux took the stage, everyone lit up, and the crowd moved in synch with her beats.
Perhaps that’s because, as one fan, Mariposa Burciaga said, the rapper embodies the spirit of her genre. “She’s the essence of hip-hop,” Burciaga said. “I mean sure, she’s speaking Spanish. She could be speaking Russian. She’s speaking truths, she’s speaking revolution.”