VIENNA, Va., July 23, 2012 —In the Backstage at the Black Cat Thursday night, about a third of the room gathered to hear Ana Tijoux’s set could speak Spanish, at least according to her informal show-of-hands poll after the second song. It was an odd scenario, really, for a musician like Ana Tijoux, who raps and sings almost exclusively in Spanish and French, only venturing into English in between each number. Since Thursday’s audience was primarily English speaking, the fact that Tijoux was able to sell out even a smaller venue like the Backstage speaks volumes on her ability to attract a crossover audience.
Now, we’re not necessarily talking “crossover” in the sense of an international singer’s appeal to a mass audience. That just isn’t very likely for Ana Tijoux, although she has several songs that would probably justify something like that happening somewhere down the line. Instead, we’re referring more about crossing over the cultural divide to put on the sort of show that reaches every kind of audience member.
Ana Tijoux was born in France to two Chilean political exiles. After moving back to Chile with her family as a teenager, she immersed herself into the growing Santiago hip-hop scene. The rest, of course, is history. Clearly, given her globetrotting background, there are a number of interesting aspects with regard to Tijoux herself and how she puts on a show, all of which are significant. But the over all impression you get from her live performance is its relative transcendence.
In other genres, it sometimes feels like this kind of cross-cultural divide would be easier to cross. Common wisdom seems to dictate that, since rap and hip-hop are both lyric-dominated music genres, if the audience can’t quite pick up on the words the performer is singing there will be a disconnect that prevents the audience from getting into the spirit of the act. Rap and hip-hop lyrics always have to be clear in a live performance.
While there’s some credibility in this line of thinking, lyrics and rhymes aren’t all that contribute to rap and hip-hop. Ana Tijoux is at least one performer who demonstrates that this lyric-centric argument only goes so far. A performer can present clever lyrics or tight, inventive rhymes to the audience. But whatever the language or the dialect, rap or hip-hop performances can still fall flat if the entire word and music picture doesn’t bridge together in an appealing way.
This is something Ana Tijoux instinctively gets during her set in general. She understands it’s not always important what you say but how you say it. This simple truth is absolutely vital to a performer like Tijoux when over half her audience on the other side of a language barrier. Fortunately, it helps that she sings and raps in romance languages though. As hundreds of years of international poetic traditions have demonstrated, it’s much simpler to string words together in a melodic and vowel-loaded language like Spanish, and still have it come out sounding good while conveying emotions to an audience that can grasp the feelings despite the language barrier.
Not that Ana Tijoux really needs the helps with her lyric flow. Even between songs, when she’s speaking with the audience directly, mixing and matching English and Spanish in the process, her words, expressions, and sentences roll out with ease. She can easily keep an audience firmly ensconced in the palm of her hand regardless of what language she is performing in.
Unfortunately, all these fine observations don’t do the rest of this artist’s show any justice. The beats and samples backing her lyrics are solid and well thought out. Her guitar and bass combo also provide Tijoux with an almost jazzy feel to her songs, providing an extra dimension to her lyrics while subtly emphasizing their meaning.
Ana Tijoux isn’t necessarily a rising star at this point. She’s been garnering mainstream attention outside of the U.S. for quite some time. But last week, she demonstrated at showed at the Black Cat that there’s a niche market outside of Spanish-speaking countries suits her. So she’s likely to have little trouble connecting with people like she did here in DC on Thursday night.
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