Thursday, October 8, 2009
ANA TIJOUX - 1977 (Oveja Negra, 2009)
Today is the day I was expecting for so, so long. If you read this blog consistently you know that I do not miss a chance to share with my readers my unconditional preference for Mademoiselle Anita Tijoux, and of course, the release of a new album by her has to be a main event for me.
Now known simply as Ana, Anita has been one of my very favorite artists for the last ten years but I'm totally biased because she also happens to be one of my closest friends and I adore her to death. Hence, don't expect this to be one of my cynical reviews.
Many people in Latin America (and EVERYBODY somehow involved in Latin American hip-hop) know who Ms. Tijoux is already, but I know I get lots of readers from the English-speaking half of the world who are not necessarily aware of this magnificent MC so this is your chance to catch up.
I first heard of this French/Chilean artist back in 1998 when I was publishing a hip-hop culture fanzine in Argentina. That little magazine had gone from being an underground Buenos Aires thing to a significant publication of continental proportions by then and I had readers in all neighbor countries. Some of them in Chile. Chile was, since the mid-nineties the most advanced and evolved hip-hop scene in South America (out of Brazil) and one of the groups that was making the most noise in Santiago's underground during those days was Makiza. A Chilean reader of my magazine sent me a cassette tape with a live recording of Makiza (along with other groups) and the moment I heard Anita's (one of the two MC's of that group) flow for the first time I knew she had a superb talent that distinguished from the rest and also I got the feeling that if I'd ever meet her personally, we could totally get along. I was right about both my assumptions.
Makiza released two albums, the independent Vida Salvaje (only as a cassette then, later re-released in CD format in 2004) and Aerolíneas Makiza (on Sony Music). I finally met Anita in 2000, right after Aerolíneas was released with the single "La Rosa De Los Vientos" (to this day one of my favorite songs of all time). That album had established the group as the biggest promise in Latin American hip-hop. While everybody else was stuck in the competitive-macho-from-the-ghetto formula, Makiza made rap accessible for all audiences by being human, sensitive and intelligent.
We were all waiting for Makiza to blow up to world-wide proportions at any moment but then something totally unexpected happen. Right before the release of their second single and the beginning of their South American promotional tour, Anita decided to leave the project. Not only did she announce she was breaking off from Makiza, she also said she was dropping rap music all together and moving back to her motherland, France. I remember that moment as one of the most emotionally intense ones in my life. I was there with the band backstage before their last concert when she told Seo2, the other MC, that she was out. She was my favorite artist and a great inspiration and she was leaving us. I cried that night, and I wasn't the only one.
We later spent a lot of time with Anita talking about her departure and her reasons resounded so strongly, that ended up being the final push I needed at that moment to leave my own country, Argentina, and consequently abandon my career as an aspiring MC.
Anita moved to France and almost at the same time I moved to California. But we never lost touch. She went through some big transformations during her stay in Paris, between 2001 and 2003. She took singing classes, trying to become a neo-soul singer. Meanwhile the rest of Makiza's member relocated in other countries as well, except for Seo2 who stayed in Santiago and pursued a successful solo career.
In 2003 Anita moved back to Chile but for a while she stayed at arms length from the hip-hop scene. She sung for a while in a funk band and she dreamt about becoming a solo artist. Her first public sign of life came later that year when she did a guest appearance in Control Machete's last album, Uno, Dos: Bandera (Control Machete, in case you don't know, was Toy Selectah's group). Many of her early-days fans where disappointed that she was singing instead of rapping.
2004 was the year of the big comeback. While promoting the re-release of Vida Salvaje, Makiza got together again for what was going to be a one-time show and ended up being a full-on reunion of Makiza. In 2005 they released their third album, Casino Royale. It wasn't a bad record, but the original chemistry of Makiza wasn't there any more and the new members added to the band where absolutely unnecessary. Soon after that, they dropped the project. Anita was going again through some major changes in her life, she had gotten married recently and soon after she became a mother. Going back to Makiza for a while reminded her of her first love: hip-hop, and she started rapping again but this time she was sure, her next project had to be her solo debut album.
In 2006 Anita crossed over to the mainstream, both in Chile and the rest of Latin America. In Chile thanks to her participation on a kids TV show as a voice over artist. In Latin America thanks to her collaboration with Mexican singer Julieta Venegas in the smash hit "Eres Para Mí". That song was latter remixed by Toy Selectah's Sonidero Nacional into an irresistible neo-cumbia track. It was then, when I first listened to that remix, that I had this sort of epiphany and I realized neo-cumbia was the next big thing to come in the Latin music world. I tried to persuade Anita into doing more cumbia tracks with Toy Selectah, who's also an unconditional admirer of her, but she had other plans.
During that time she recorded a whole never-released pop/rock album and did a few other guest appearances, with artists like Bajofondo's Supervielle and Chilean DJ's Bitman & Roban, among others. Then in 2007 she finally came out with her first solo album Kaos, which I reviewed in the very first post of this blog. I loved the album, of course, but I very much preferred her cumbia remix by Toy Selectah (even though I truly can't stand Julieta).
Anyway, now it's 2009 and her second solo album comes out, titled after the year she was born, 1977. This album marks a return of the very first Anita MC that I fell in love with back in 1998, a return to the basics, her basics, pure underground, refined, jazzy, introspective, sensitive hip-hop. None of those electro experiments, no pop aspirations (no guest appearances by Julieta Venegas!), a lot less singing, just pure raw rap (both in Spanish and French) to please hardcore hip-hop heads and b-boys alike.
I have to admit that I have been out of the loop in matters of hip-hop lately, listening to a whole other bunch of music styles (you know, cumbia...) but listening to this album for the first time yesterday brought me back to the first time I heard her rapping, the first time I saw her on stage and I idealized her as the ultimate female super-MC, the saviour of all South American rap.
Now the album will be coming out next week in Chile (yeah, I'm the very first one to review it) and hopefully somebody will soon make it available for the international market too. I think this could be a perfect addition to Nacional Record's catalog, don't you think? C'mon Mr. Cookman, could you PLEASE release this in the US?
Buy it here.