I’ve described before what happens to me when I go to real Brooklyn (i.e. anywhere not accessibly via the L train). I get lost, usually. And/or I end up in a very expensive cab ride home. So when I decided on a recent Friday night to go by myself out to Prospect Park to see the astonishing Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux perform as part of the Latin American Music Conference, I packed like a teenager running away from home: multiple books and magazines, iPod, candy. I didn’t get lost this time but I’m glad I had all my most crucial belongings because it did feel like an exotic foreign country out there.
My interest in contemporary Latin American pop and hip hop started with an ex-boyfriend, but Tijoux was the first of the genre’s artists that I fell in love with all on my own. Born in France to Chilean parents living in exile during Pinochet’s dictatorship, she moved back to Chile as a teenager where she quickly became involved in Santiago’s hip-hop scene. In the late ’90s she became the MC of a respected group, Makiza, but it wasn’t until the 2009 release of her second solo album 1977 that she started gaining attention outside of the Latin American music world. And by that I mean that’s when English speaking music nerds like me started paying attention; Tijoux is still woefully underexposed here. Not that you could tell by the crowd’s reaction at Prospect Park.
Watch the video for “1977” here:
This event, the Latin Alternative Music Conference, is in its 13th year and it just keeps getting bigger. The bandshell was packed with well-heeled multi-lingual New Yorkers; the Brazilian couple next to me had their four-year-old girl in a Stella McCartney sundress I totally want. But there were also a healthy number of young arty kids in Urban Outfitters-wear, which is the New York music scene’s key populace, not because they spend money or have any tangible power, but because people with money and power tend to invest in what this demographic consumes culturally. Judging by their willingness to look ridiculous pumping one arm enthusiastically up and down as Tijoux bounced around in her adorably dorky running sneakers and flannel shirt, the young hipsters are crushed out on this girl.
And the feeling is mutual. Tijoux is famous in part for blending highly personal narrative with socially conscious political themes in a way that’s not preachy or superior. “It’s important that art be political,” she told me a few days after performing in New York. She was on her way back home to Chile and looking forward to a break from the “overstimulation” of touring. “I have to make sure my friends and family have been eating properly,” she said with a laugh. “I’m very mother-like.” We talked a bit about the current fiery political climate in America. “I love politics, I don’t love politicians,” she said. “But it’s important to stay informed. Especially for young people because they are the most dangerous people.” I asked her why and she responded like it was the most obvious truth in the world: “Because they are the future of a country.”