Hip-hop has always been a useful vehicle for revolutionary political ideals, and the acclaimed emcee has always deployed it for that purpose
Photo courtesy of Nacional Records
It’s hard to get ahold of Ana Tijoux these days. When she isn’t playing shows in New York and Los Angeles, creating music with Palestinian rapper Shadia Mansour, or penning fiery feminist essays for the Walker Art Center, the 37-year old Chilean MC is back home, spending time with her son and daughter, Luciano and Emilia. When Tijoux released her latest album Vengo earlier this year, her impassioned delivery and highly political lyrics garnered glowing reviews from music critics all over the world. “The music of Vengo is virtually flawless,” declared NPR.
Since then, Tijoux’s been on an exhaustive creative spree, releasing music videos every few months and touring nonstop. And today, Todo Lo Sólido Se Desvanece En El Aire, Vengo’s 14th track, gets its eagerly awaited video release. The animated video comes from a collaboration with Chilean political cartoonist and illustrator Malaimagen, whose sharply humorous cartoons Tijoux has long admired.
“I wrote to him as a fan—‘Hello, my name is Ana, I really love your work and I would love to make something with you. And we connected,’” says Tijoux, when I finally get her on the phone.
The video for Todo Lo Sólido Se Desvanece En El Aire delivers the kind of poignant critique of global economic conditions and austerity measures that Tijoux has become known for. The title of the track is a borrowed phrase from the Communist Manifesto—it translates into “all that is solid melts into air” and refers to the fragility of social and economic relations in a capitalist society. “What would the world like if there was no capital, if humans had no masters?” Tijoux asks in the song’s lyrics. Malaimagen’s mournful cartoons illustrate the deep despair of everyday life in the trenches of poverty.
“We really wanted to make a video my people would understand, you know?” says Tijoux.
The political nature of Tijoux’s music makes sense, given that politics have shaped much of her life. Tijoux was born in France, where her parents moved to escape the brutality of Augusto Pinochet’s government. That’s where she spent much of her life —her first language is French—but in 1993, she returned to Chile, where she still resides. The decision to sing in Spanish was a conscious return to her roots as an artist and a first-generation immigrant; she wanted her music to be heard and understood by Chileans. Hip-hop has always been a useful vehicle for revolutionary political ideals, and Tijoux has always deployed it for that purpose. Her Grammy-nominated debut album, 1977, titled for the year she was born, set the tone for the rest of her career—an autobiographical record colored with the politics of exile.
“It’s natural. We write about what we talk about during the day,” says Tijoux. “That’s just the nature of politics. It’s not something that goes away. It’s just an honest way I make music because music gives me a sense of the world.”
In light of her eminent career, it almost seems condescending to concentrate on her role as a mother of two children. It’s hard not to cringe, imagining such a powerfully political artist suffering standard, saccharine inquiries about the joys of motherhood and trite hand wringing over whether she can “have it all.” But for Tijoux, the personal has always been political and the political has always been personal. And her motherhood is deeply political. It isn’t just about her political opinions; it’s about raising politically conscious people.
“I take my role as an educator,” says Tijoux. “I never thought [that way] before I was a mother. Now I really think that education is not only in school, in classrooms—education is everywhere. Education is in music. Education is when I write. Education is when we talk to one another.”
And the prolific lyricist hasn’t just been educating through her music—she’s recently taken a foray into writing. When the Walker Art Center asked Tijoux to participate in a series of op-eds by artists from around the world, she sharpened her pencil and took a stab at the music industry. In La Cultura de la Basura (or, “Garbage Culture”), she inveighed against the hypersexualization of women’s bodies in music. Arguing that music ceases to become art once it becomes co-opted by financial interests, she writes that the machinations of a profit-driven music industry invariably exploit women.
“Music videos are a clear example of this situation,” she writes. “Bodies are not bodies, faces are not faces, smiles are not smiles but merely lips smeared with oil. Thighs are muscles the camera lens exaggerates, conflating the woman’s body with that of an animal in heat.”
Tijoux resists working with certain magazines and publications for this very reason. She refuses any attempts to alter her image, especially when her photo is being taken for a magazine cover or spread. “The make-up artist wants to change your entire face—make your eyes more big, lighten your skin, make your lips more big, whatever. The perfect type of beauty,” says Tijoux, when I ask her about why she wrote the op-ed. In her videos, she appears barefaced and casually clothed. There are no grand costumes, no extravagant props or brand-name product placement. And this kind of restraint is probably her most subversive act of all.