Wow, what a week! After almost ten years of dreaming about it, I finally got to hang out with my favorite artist, and one of my favorite people ever, again. It's been four hectic days moving up and down California following the steps of Chilean rapper Anita Tijoux and now that's over, and while I'm still exhausted, it's time to do a recap.
On Tuesday afternoon I arrived at Los Angeles to attend her first of two shows in that city. I hate LA as much as every other Northern Californian, so I don't go down there so much, but I always have fun visiting. My rule is that if you stay in LA less than three days, it's a lot of fun and a great place to visit, more than that and I start getting depressed. If I ever made the mistake of being there for longer than a week I'd be exposing myself to dangerous suicidal thoughts (true sad side-story, an old acquaintance of mine went all the way from San Francisco to LA to commit suicide, it made so much sense). What depresses me the most about LA? The over-abundance of parking lots every-fucking-where you look, both because they are aesthetically horrible and because they remind me that I'm 33 years old and I still don't know how to drive.
Thus, only my supreme infinite love openly professed to Anita Tijoux was reason enough to made me travel down there for a couple of days. Oh, and also, visiting some good old friends. So, I showed up at Little Temple around sound-check time and that's where we finally met again, all very emotional and all. We spent a lot of time catching up and chatting nonsense upstairs backstage and it was great. That night she was supposed to share stage with Eric Bobo and DJ Rhettmatic, whose impressive live show I've already seen and commented on this blog last year and I was looking forward to check out again because it was pretty awesome. However, Mr. Bobo decided to cancel the gig last minute because of a show with Cypress Hill in New York. Anita was very pissed off about it, mainly because she wanted to see Rhettmatic.
This was Anita's first visit to the US and she's still in that constant state of awe about meeting in person with her long-time admired underground hip-hop celebs. She had just returned from Austin's SXSW and all she talked about was meeting with Illa J, checking Flying Lotus live and sharing stage with Bahamadia. Since she recorded 1977 (released in the US by Nacional Records, available digitally now) Anita has been all into underground hip-hop again. I remember chatting with her during her pre-Kaos days, when she was over the whole purist-rap shit, listening to stuff like Bugz & The Attic and Buraka Som Systema. Now she seems to be consumed by the cult of dead underground hip-hop hero Jay Dilla and in total denial of her past fling with electronica and especially Latin pop. Her main concern, in fact, is that she's being marketed under the Latin Alternative label, together with neo-cumbia acts that she feels have nothing to do with her, while she'd like to see her record printed in vinyl stacked in the same racks of Mad Lib or Georgia Anne Muldrow. As far from Julieta Venegas as possible.
We talked about all this and about the paradoxical impossibilities of selling progressive rap in Spanish in the United States (more on this subject soon) and then she went on stage at Little Temple. She couldn't get visas to bring her crew on tour so for her SXSW and LA shows she hooked up with local DJ Ethos (who usually performs along Mexican rapper Bocafloja) and the Chilean-living-in-New-York MC Rodrigo of the group Rebel Díaz in back-up vocals.
Last time I saw Anita live before that was in Santiago de Chile in 2000 at the last Makiza's show, minutes before their first break-up. So I was very excited to see her on stage again, ten years later and she was sublime. Even though she was hella tired and actually considering taking a nap backstage one hour before the show, once she got on stage she was full of energy and her characteristic charisma, cracking jokes in Spanglish between songs and even freestyling a little bit over some Ethos breaks. After the show she was approached by international keyboard legend Money Mark who invited her to come over to his home-studio a few blocks away, unfortunately I missed that episode of the tour because I had to leave before that to meet with my friend who was providing me with housing for the night.
On Wednesday afternoon we met at Hollywood's Amoeba Records for some digging and a "What's in your bag?" interview. She was supposed to expend around $75 bucks but she ended up spending a lot more. Mostly hip-hop and soul vinyl, some CD's and a couple of DVD documentaries.
I wanted to show her the horrible reality of Spanish hip-hop in the US by pointing out where they keep La Mala Rodríguez CD's in the stores, labeled under Latin Pop/Rock, alongside Maná and Mecano (or if you're lucky, within the reggaetón category, ew) but she said she didn't have time to get depressed about stuff like that when there were so many interesting records to dig on the other side of the store. During the interview they asked her why she didn't pick any Latin music discs, her obvious answer was "I could get that any day if I wanted in Latin America, if I came all the way here I'm gonna buy the records we can't find down there."
From there we drove up to Glendale where she wanted to stop by to pay her respects to Jay Dilla's grave and there we met with the people of Mochilla records who recently put out a Dilla tribute album. She talked about how immensely influential was the Detroit producer for the Chilean hip-hop scene, where local artists throw shows and put out tribute compilations in his honor, and how she was there in representation of the Chilean scene paying homage to the fallen hero. I personally don't believe in cemeteries, the cult of the death and all that stuff (I'm very skeptic and don't believe in any sort of afterlife) but still, it was a very emotional moment for all of us. She kept repeating "I can't believe I'm here!"
After dinner we had to part ways because she was expected at La Cita for her second LA show and I wasn't able to join her there because I had tickets to go back to SF that night, I wanted to arrive home with time enough to rest and get mentally prepared for our Thursday night gig together in Berkeley. But she later told me that she show was great, the place was packed and Money Mark showed up there again. "I wish I have his energy when I hit his age," she mentioned at least twice.
Her show at La Peña in Berkeley was a very important one because that's a significant pocket of Chilean exiles activity, so unlike all her previous shows she was going to perform for a crowd that knew about her and had in common with her the political-exile-grown-up-abroad factor (she grew up in France during Pinochet's dictatorship). I worked on the promotion of this show with her tour manager since day one and for the line up I suggested Funky C as an opening act for obvious reasons.
Back in the nineties in Chile, Funky C was known as C-Funk from the group Los Tetas and Anita Tijoux made her first official recording as a guest MC in their song "La Medicina" before she crossed over with her group Makiza. Now Funky C has a band called Joya, signed to Sonic 360 records and has been living in the Bay Area for the past two years.
So, the original line up was those two Chilean acts plus myself DJing through the transitions. Later on, however, they added two more acts: neo-cumbia-dub DJ Mexican Dubwiser who happened to be in town for the week and local female rapper Raw-G, also originally from Mexico. As a result the show got stretched a little too much, pissing some people off because Anita played too late and many had to leave earlier because it was a school night and because there's no more trains to the city after midnight.
Still, for those who could stay, the show was quite a treat. Unlike her previous shows where she mostly just played 1977 songs, in Berkeley she did a handful of classic numbers including Makiza songs "En Paro" and "Un Día Cualquiera" and for the second half of her performance she invited Funky C and his band on stage and together they freestyled versions of "La Medicina" and "La Rosa de los Vientos."
After the show, backstage, she was complaining about the sound quality and the lack of power of the sound-system, I told her not to worry, "you sounded good," and she responded, "Juan, if I farted on the microphone you'd say it sounded good too." True.
They picked me up at my house and we drove together with Ana and her Manager and that was her only sort-of visit to San Francisco, which she could only see from the car window for a few minutes. No time for touristy stuff.
Once again she was very tired, falling asleep in the car and wondering if it'd be possible to take a nap before the show where she was scheduled to head-line. Instead, what she did was asking to change the line up so she could perform and leave earlier. The venue was an un-glamorous billiards hall, so big that even if there were two hundred people it would've looked half-empty. She walked in with no expectations but it ended up being her best California show (at least out of the three I got to see). The crowd was really feeling her, and I'd guess that 90% of them had never heard of her before, but they were a lot more open to hip-hop than the average Latin crowd (one again, more on that subject coming up soon).
After the show we drove back to Oakland because she was invited to drop by the Quannum Project's studio to meet with Lifesavas' Jumbo (who saw her briefly the night before at La Peña) and Blackaliscious' beatmaster Chief Xcel. It was late past her bedtime and she had plane tickets for early in the morning with almost no time to sleep in between but still, she was very excited about meeting more of her underground hip-hop heroes.
I remember back in 2000 I bought a copy of that first Quannum Spectrum compilation and had it on me the day I first met Anita in person, having lunch at some friend's house and she was very excited about listening to it and burning a copy (those rare underground hip-hop gems were really hard to find in South America back then). Now we were both meeting the main producer of that classic recording in his studio, ten years later, and it felt like the circle was magically completed.
She was surprised at how humble, accessible and down to earth all these hip-hop people were, especially coming from a scene were local nobodies and wannabes have so much ego. She felt embarrassed to ask Chief Xcel to sing her a Blackaliscious t-shirt she found that afternoon at a Berkeley thrift-store and then she blushed when he asked her to do the same on one of her CD's.
They talked about potential tours and collaborations and then, before leaving the Chief invited us to the Quannum's record label stash upstairs from his studio and gave us piles, literally piles, of free CD's and vinyls. Two copies of each, one for me one for Anita. She was worried about having to travel by plane carrying so much overweight. I was the happiest kid on earth.
At around five AM, while half asleep we said good bye, hopping the success of this tour will result in more frequent visits to the US so we don't have to wait for another ten years to meet again.
Check out the full photo album of my four days Chasing Ana on my facebook page, and download my Chasing Ana mixtape free from here. Ana Tijoux's US debut album, 1977 is available now on Itunes and the CD will hit stores on April 27th.