Ana Tijoux needs coffee. The 36-year-old Chilean hip-hop star is in the middle of a whirlwind publicity tour to promote her fifth solo album, "Vengo," and on the Thursday morning that press surround her at the Latin Alternative Music Conference, she’s tired. She took the stage the night before at Central Park’s Summer Stage, commanding the attention of a rain-soaked audience with a live band and DJ that alternated seamlessly between hardcore hip-hop and funk-infused ballads.
But it’s not just the music that’s got Tijoux in need of a caffeine boost, it’s motherhood. She’s traveled to the U.S. with her two children in tow, including a toddler son and a newborn daughter. She’s spent nearly two decades spelling out her politics through music, most notably on her last album, "1977." The eponymous single featured on AMC’s "Breaking Bad" refers to the year that she was born in France to parents who had escaped the murderous Pinochet dictatorship. But it’s now, while waking up for 4 a.m. feedings, that the rapper feels that her political identity has most come into focus. "It’s amazing because I think that motherhood is the place where you get to apply everything that you say," she says.
Despite the fatigue, Tijoux is gracious, funny and thankful to the woman who brought her a large cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Like so many women, she’s a working mother who’s trying to make the world a better place for her children. Along with Radio Valencia *I talked briefly with Tijoux about her activism, music and motherhood.
Colorlines: Do you see any parallels between activists in the U.S. and activists in Chile?
That’s a good question. I think to have a really true answer, I should come here more. I’ve got a very superficial vision about it. I had the chance to deal with some activist singers, but I feel like I don’t have a proper vision about it because I’m not here so many times to see the differences and similarities.
Colorlines: You recently released a track called "Somos Sur" with Palestinian emcee Shadia Mansour. What inspired you to speak out about Palestine?
The situation with Palestine is not something new. I remember when I was very young, two or three years old, we used to live in France and a bunch of friends of my parents were Palestinian. It was a topic at home. I had the chance to have an education where my parents always told me that a situation of the world is not an isolated situation. Your problem is my problem. With that point of view in this sense, I always had some sensibility with the Palestinian vision because I feel that some resistance is very similar to what’s happened in Latin America.
Secondly, Chile is a very strange country. I don’t know the reason, but it’s a country with one of the biggest Palestinian populations outside of Palestine after Jordan. I think we’ve got some connections with Palestine. We can’t pretend like what’s happening invisible. What’s happening isn’t new, it’s been genocide after genocide in front of our eyes.
Colorlines: How has motherhood impacted your perspective as an artist?
My face! [Laughs.] I don’t have a face. I’m always tired, I’m always asking for coffee. I would love to say that I had an amazing night drinking, but no, I had to take ibuprofen. It’s not trendy at all. I would say that it’s amazing because I think that motherhood is the place where you get to apply everything that you say. I always say this, but I think it’s important to say. I think that as a human being and as an artist or whatever, we can say a lot of things in front of tape recorders and cameras in our music, but it’s at home where we get to apply everything that we say. Education, solidarity, compassion. It’s in that nest where you get to apply everything that you say in your music.
Radio Valencia: In terms of your lyrics, I know you wrote this album while you were pregnant. Has the experience of motherhood changed how you think about music, how you’re touring?
Totally, because I’m not the same as what I used to be 10 years ago. We change continually. When we don’t change, the fiber and the DNA of what we think changes. I have to learn much more about discipline. I wake up at 4 a.m. to give food to my girl and then I wrote, and in that sense it was amazing. At the same time, I was very into this album, but I understood it slowly, not immediately. I knew in my consciousness that I wanted to make an album that my kids could understand and not make it complicated in lyric senses. It’s political, but in very simple language. Sometimes I feel that we come from the egocentric place of language and vocabulary where we try to make important words, we forget that we don’t make music for musicians. And we don’t make music for people who are already convinced. We make music for people to open their eyes and have a dialogue with some people who are in another vibe.
Radio Valencia: What about in terms of the actual music? Sometimes you do ballads, sometimes you rap. You have musical influences from a marching band sound or this song about Palestine. How do you make choices about which songs you’re doing to sing as a ballad versus rapping?
The choice is whatever I feel. I think sometimes we live in a world that’s very strange where everything is compact and organized, everything is this so in order. Even in music. More and more, over time, I’m listening to all sorts of music. It’s not that I don’t like it. Sometimes I listen to music and it’s too electronic for me, but I love electronic music. It’s just that I love what’s organic. We can be so dehumanized to not listen to an amazing mix from everywhere, so I listen to Ryuicgi Sakamoto, Afrika Bambaataa, then Mos Def. I think that music should be free. In the same sense that you make it, in the same sense that you listen to it. Great music is great music and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. If a song can be very emotional with you and open some fucking chakra or whatever, we shouldn’t be closed to that. It’s those kinds of songs that make you feel human again.
*Post has been modified since publication.